I have been in love with newspapers my whole life. For eight years, I shared my breakfast table with the New York Times. It's always been there, waiting on my driveway until I wake up enough to be able to absorb its thoughtful news stories, art reviews, opinions and, after a cup of coffee, its crossword puzzle. The other day, I divorced myself from the Times forever. And, I have to say, I'm glad it's over -- even though I admit I'll miss that old Grey Lady. The end of my ill-fated love affair with the Times started innocently enough earlier this month.
Since I love the Times so much, I decided I would share the joy of "all the news that's fit to print" with my parents. As a Christmas present, I ordered a subscription for my mother and father, who live in another city.
On December 1, I went online to the www.nytimes.com, gave them my credit card and entered my parents' address. There was nothing to indicate when the new subscription would start, so I told my mother to call me if she didn't get a paper by December 6. She received nothing, not even an e-mail confirming the order. (I had provided my mother's e-mail address and phone number as the primary contact.)
A little chagrined, I called the New York Times. The customer service clerk said the subscription was there but wasn't scheduled to start until December 10. I was a little surprised it would take nine days to start a new subscription, but so be it.
"I'm very sorry you were treated this way. At the New York Times, we pride ourselves on our customer service."
No newspaper arrived on December 10.
I called the Times again on December 10. This time, I started taking names. Jill told me the computer showed the subscription was supposed to start on December 14. She didn't know anything about a December 10 start date. OK. I told her I was getting very impatient, and if my parents didn't get a paper on December 14, the Times would lose not just one (my parents), but two subscribers (plus myself). Jill assured me she was sending a note to the carrier, and the subscription would start on time.
Come December 14, no paper.
The next day, I called the Times again, and this time spoke to Tara, who said the subscription was scheduled to start on the 18th. I told her, "No." Jill had said December 14. Tara admitted she could see where Jill had sent a note to the carrier to start on December 14, but she couldn't explain why that didn't happen. I asked her if my parents could get a "missed paper" delivered that day. She said she would put the order in, and a paper would be delivered between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. I asked if she could call the carrier and confirm. She said she would get in trouble if she did that. I reminded her she was already in trouble.
Come 2:15 p.m., no paper.
I called Times again that afternoon. I spoke to Jennifer, who told me the computer showed the paper was scheduled to start on December 18. I got pretty angry, I admit. I told her I wanted to cancel both the not-yet-started subscription and my own. She said she would do everything she could to keep me as a subscriber. I asked her if she could get a paper to my parents by the next day. She said she couldn't do that. I told her to begin the cancellation process.
Jennifer then transferred me to a supervisor. Melissa told me the paper was scheduled to start December 18. I got angry again. She said she saw nothing in the computer that said the subscription was scheduled for December 10 or December 14; it had always been scheduled for December 18, she said. I asked her if she knew Jill. She said she did. I told her to ask Jill why she said the paper would start on December 14. "I didn't make those dates up," I said (yelled, actually). She asked if I had specified a start date. I said I was never given that choice, either online or on the phone. I asked if it was normal to start a subscription 18 days after it was ordered. She said that normally it took 3-5 days, but online it usually took a little longer. After Melissa scolded me again for not specifying a start date, I told her to just cancel both subscriptions. She said my paper would stop the next day -- it did -- and I got angry all over again. I asked, "How is it possible to cancel a subscription in less than 24 hours but not be able to start one for 18 days?" She again chided me for not specifying a start date. I said goodbye.
I called Arthur Sulzberger's office (a number I kept from when I was national president of The Newspaper Guild). I didn't ask to speak to him; I just wanted to air a complaint. They had a "customer care representative" named Myra call me back.
Myra offered to cut my subscription price in half. This was before I pointed out I had already canceled. Still, she couldn't guarantee a paper to my parents before December 18. She apologized and said, "I'm very sorry you were treated this way. At the New York Times, we pride ourselves on our customer service." I laughed. She asked if there was anything else she could help me with. I said no.
I thought that was the end of this customer service nightmare. I was wrong. There is a final chapter.
December 17, after I woke up on the second day of no New York Times at my breakfast table, my mother called. Guess what showed up in their driveway? The paper. I told her to enjoy reading it and to let me know if she could complete the crossword puzzle.