When I was growing up, my family read the San Francisco Chronicle. We chuckled over Art Hoppe's column and breezed through Herb Caen's. My mom liked Stanton Delaplane, and Charles McCabe was like an honorary weird uncle. My brothers and I delivered the Oakland Tribune in the El Cerrito hills, but the Chronicle was our paper of record.
Bay Area residents like to complain about the Chronicle--this is our birthright. But when I returned to the Bay Area in 1999, I probably read the Contra Costa Times more often. I even picked up the Examiner for a while, since it was free and included the New York Times crossword puzzle.
But I knew the Chronicle was struggling, and I wanted vaguely to help, so when a guy outside Safeway offered me a trial subscription, I went for it. Three days a week for two months, $16. I paid cash.
The delivery was spotty--three times I plied my driveway in vain--but more important, I found little I wanted to read. I already get a lot of news from other sources, and I don't care to read about food, restaurants, cars, parties, or the opera. I glanced at the opinion, sports, and real estate sections, but I actively resented the scant attention to books. I realize most dailies don't even have a Sunday book review, but God almighty, give us something to read already.
The trial period elapsed, but the paper kept coming. I received a bill and ignored it; I was paid up, and I didn't want to renew at more than twice the introductory rate. More papers. I went online and learned that subscriptions continue until you cancel them. Naturally, it was impossible to do that online. Two more bills arrived, and I sent them back marked "cancel." More papers.
Finally I got a telephone call from a guy who wanted to sell me a subscription. I told him the whole story, and he offered to cancel the outstanding balance and set me up with a Sunday-only subscription. OK. Then he asked me: are you getting the paper now? Well, yeah. He couldn't sell me a subscription until I canceled my old one. He gave me an 800 number to call.
Which I did for some reason. I spoke to a helpful young woman with a Filipino accent. She told me that my subscription was canceled and offered to erase the outstanding balance. Wonderful. I asked if she was in the Philippines. Yes, Manila.
Have your irony flares fired yet? Maybe it's me, but it seems odd to call halfway around the world to help save your local newspaper.
May 2009 update: I got the paper today, about three months after my subscription expired. I look forward to reading it.