Monday, June 08, 2009


Allow me to rant for a bit, if you will...

Here in Sacramento, there really is only one daily newspaper - The Sacramento Bee.

As I have mentioned previously, my brother, Ryan, is in jail. I will elaborate on this issue at another time - I'm still sorting through my own emotional response to his situation and am not yet ready to divulge the details openly.

One thing that my brother has requested while he is in jail is that we send him some books or possibly a subscription to The Sacramento Bee. Being the only family member with the financial means, and willingness, to readily purchase a subscription, I went online to sign him up.
The price quoted on the SacBee's website for a 13 week subscription was $26. Reasonable. I enter my brothers delivery information, my billing information, and get an email confirmation stating that delivery will begin within 2-3 days. This was on a Wednesday, so I have my mother tell Ryan that he should probably start receiving delivery the following Monday or Tuesday (just to allow extra time - so he'd be pleasantly surprised should the delivery begin earlier).
The next Monday I receive a phone call from The Bees "VIP Membership Services" stating that they need to clarify the subscription price for me. The representative advises me that delivery to a county jail is mail delivery and therefore the charges will be $44.10 for five weeks, more than four and a half times their standard subscription rates. Since its looking like Ryan is going to be in there a while I tell them to cancel the subscription request. At the rates quoted to me, that would be over $450 per year. Ridiculous.
I asked my mom to tell Ryan that I wasn't going to purchase the subscription after all because of the exorbitant costs. She did, and she said that he completely understood. I imagine that he was a bit disappointed - I have since visited with him and the options of things to do in a county jail are very limited. The library is very limited with a large portion of the books available being donations from other inmates of any books that their family members sent them. There are classes available for the inmates, but since this is a county facility and not a state prison the classes are limited to remedial courses designed for those wishing to pursue their GED. Despite having gotten himself into the situation he is in, Ryan is an intelligent person so these options are not too appealing to him. Thus, the request for the newspaper subscription.
The more I thought about the subscription price quoted to me, the more outraged I became. A couple days later I emailed The Bee's general information address with the following message:
I recently tried to purchase a subscription to the Sac Bee for my brother.
I am ashamed to admit that at present he is in custody at the Placer County Jail in Auburn.
Online the subscription price was listed as $26 for 13 weeks.
Today I received a call from an associate advising that the subscription price would be increased because of different delivery requirements to his location. I was advised that delivery for him would be $44.10 for just 5 weeks.
This difference in cost is outrageous and I have a hard time imagining how a price difference that great is justified aside from The Bee taking advantage of potential customers who have no other option of obtaining the paper. Or, is it that you just don't like to have customers?

Two days later, I received the following response:
Thank you for your email to The Sacramento Bee. The difference in price
is actually $4.25/week, for a total of $21.25 for 5 weeks or $34.00 for
8 weeks.

Unfortunately, the person who called you was quoting our Delivery by
mail subscriptions in error. I apologize for the incorrect information.
Would you be interested in starting the subscription now knowing the
correct rates?

At that time I responded that I may be interested in starting a subscription at the newly quoted rates but to hold off for the time being because Ryan may be moving to a state facility.
A few days later we found out the he will be at the county facility for at least another 5 weeks so I decided to start the subscription and emailed the contact I had been corresponding with regarding the updated subscription price.
Understandably, when I initially asked them to cancel my request they purged my delivery and billing information so they asked me to call in and give the information to any agent.
I called this morning and gave all of the delivery and billing info to a representative, then asked them to confirm the costs. Boy, am I glad I asked them to confirm the costs because I was once again quoted the $44.10. At that time I told her about the above exchanges and she advised me that whomever had quoted me the charge of $21.25 must have been unaware that mail delivery would be required. I read her, verbatim, the entire email including the senders full name. She paused for a moment and said "thats my boss", then placed me on hold. After a minute she came back and while she did say that they would "honor" the quote of $21.25 she continued to insinuate that what my subscription required was mail delivery and that is a higher cost. After she confirmed my billing and delivery information I asked when the delivery should actually be expected to begin. At that point she said that the carrier for that area should receive the order tomorrow and that the actual delivery should begin the day after that.
Wait. What? Carrier? If this requires mail delivery why is it going to a carrier?
This whole entire interaction leaves me with a couple of impressions... either the department who handles the subscriptions has no clue what kind of delivery is required for where OR The Bee is taking advantage of a demographic who has no other option for obtaining a daily newspaper. Seriously, its not as though the inmates can run down to the local 7-11 and pick up a copy. I also have to question how many families of inmates have been financially taken advantage of because they took the subscription rate quoted for what it was and didn't bother to voice complaint.
Now, I'm not one to say that prisoners should have cushy lives with premium cable and posh accommodations; they are where they are because they have done something wrong and have to pay for their wrongs against society. However, a newspaper isn't something too outrageous and if their families are willing to purchase their subscriptions, the families shouldn't be taken advantage of financially. Yes, a higher subscription rate than standard does seem reasonable and logical -- but not to the extent that I was originally quoted.

This is not the only issue I have with The Sacramento Bee - its just the most recent, and to me, the most outrageous.
In the past this blog has been quoted in The Bee without any sort of request or notification. I only found out that I had been quoted when friends emailed me saying "Hey, congratulations on being quoted in The Bee!"
More frequently, this has happened to a friend of mine. To the extent that she took her blog private for a few months because she was tired of being quoted without the courtesy of any sort of request.
Yes, journalistic ethics may not require a request or notification when one is quoting an already published blog, but common courtesy does. Especially when it is coming from a local area blogger who may have relationships with writers or editors of the publication.

In general, The Bee has gone downhill at a rapidly alarming pace in the past couple of years. The quality of journalists is not what it used to be which led me to cancel my daily subscription over a year ago.
The one writer I take the most issue with is the new restaurant critic. I, personally, find his reviews to be condescending and pompous. When a restaurant critic takes over 200 words (yes, I did a word count) to tell the reader what the difference is between good and great, the message it sends is that the writer finds their audience to be intellectually inferior.
Furthermore, I take issue with his journalistic ethics. He has openly admitted that when reviewing one restaurant in particular he has gone into the kitchen and introduced who he was just so that he could watch the chef prepare the meals. Critics and reviewers of any nature are not to reveal who they are so that they can ensure they receive the same level of service and quality of product that any other customer or consumer would receive.

One of two things needs to happen. Either The Bee needs a complete overhaul, or Sacramento needs another option for a daily printed newspaper.

1 comment:

Tanya Kristine said...

i vote for the latter. the bee is not the best paper ever written.