Martin: Newspapers can remain friends easier by avoiding scam-like operations

One of the state’s big newspapers almost lost a subscriber last week when she received a notice increasing the annual subscription rate by almost $100. It was not so much the amount of the increase that put her in a cancellation mode; rather, it was some fine print at the bottom of the notice.

NC Bookwatch by D.G. Martin

NC Bookwatch
by D.G. Martin

“Subscribers will be charged an additional $2 on Thanksgiving Day and an additional $1 charge” for each of seven other special days “for additional premium content in these editions. These charges are not included in our subscription prices and will change your expiration date.”

The result: an additional charge of $9 a year that does not show up on any bill.

Small change, maybe. But the artful nature of the charges unnerved her.

Until this moment she had viewed the newspaper as a trusted friend that rooted out and protected her from cheap scams, not as a perpetrator of them.

Nevertheless, after a few more angry thoughts about her disappointment in the newspaper, my friend bit her lip and renewed her subscription, still declaring, “It will never be the same.”

Her subscription renewal is testimony to the loyalty that she and many others have for their newspapers. We think of our local papers as partners keeping our ties to the communities, neighbors, and events in the places we call home, whether or not we still live there.

That affection is at the heart of a portion of an unfinished memoir by Joseph Mitchell (1908-1996) in the Dec. 1 issue of The New Yorker magazine. Mitchell was born in Robeson County. At age 21 he moved to New York City where he lived almost all of the rest of his life. As a regular contributor to The New Yorker and author of “Up in the Old Hotel,” he became one of the country’s most admired chroniclers of life in New York.

His memoir focuses on his affection for Robeson County, its landscapes, its people, and The Robesonian, the daily paper that had served for more than 100 years, and still serves, as the chronicler of life in Lumberton and Robeson County.

When you read his descriptions of the farmlands, swamps, forests and waters of his native county, you will want to save a copy as a hymn of gratitude for the God-given memories of home, the wonders of North Carolina’s rural landscape, and for Mitchell’s love of his hometown newspaper.

Mitchell continued his subscription to The Robesonian long after he moved to New York City because it kept him attached to his growing-up places and people he loved.

“It arrives at my apartment house every third or fourth day in batches of two or three or four issues, each issue tightly rolled and tightly wrapped in a brown-paper wrapper, and when I open my mailbox and find a batch waiting for me I am almost as glad to see it as I was during my first year or so in the city. … Reading The Robesonian has long since become one of the rituals of my life. I tear the wrappers off, and then I arrange the issues in the order of their day of publication, and then I sit down and read them in that order.”

As long as our newspapers continue to connect us to the places and people we love, many of us will not be able to give up our subscriptions even when price increases seem outrageous.

But that affection would certainly last longer and be stronger if our newspapers avoid the temptation to squeeze a few extra dollars from their readers by the use of fine print chicanery that might be expected from a pay-day lender or cable company, but not from a best friend.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon (preempted this week and next by special programming) and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For information visit

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