Friday, November 12, 2010

Rack Rage: A MediaOne Meltdown

Posted By on November 12, 2010, 12:00 AM

On Wednesdays, I take some pride seeing City Weekly's vans roaring around town filling racks and stands with the week's paper. After our writers and editors give their all to put out each issue, it's rewarding to see the papers appear on the street. ---I even get a little rush when I see other alternative papers, like a new Catalyst or QSalt Lake, in the racks. I'm hungry to see what they've written about.

It goes back to my San Francisco days where street corners would be lousy with boxes, each one vying for attention, and dueling headlines at sidewalk magazine stands would demand I stop and part with a few coins to read the evening news. I would ride the 38 Geary home laden with papers.

So, when I saw the In This Week distribution guy on Main Street yesterday, I just wanted to grab a copy, not come to blows with the man. But I didn't expect to watch him dump an armload of In This Week into the City Weekly rack. I immediately transferred the In This Week papers to the proper rack and then caught up with him. "Hey, you're covering up City Weekly with your papers!" I said.

"It was just temporary," he stressed. "I have other stops so I just put them there for a minute."

"Well, temporary or not, why put them in the City Weekly rack?"

"Will you listen to me? It was just temporary."

"I plan to complain to your supervisor about this."

"Bitch!" he grumbled under his breath and took off.

So I checked to see if he'd done something similar at the next rack, and sure enough, he had covered the City Weekly papers with a new copy of In This Week turned upside down. Plus, he'd put a copy of SLUG from a nearby rack on top, making it look like store customers might have done it.

The average person might find such antics laughable and chalk it up to dog-eat-dog competition. But to me, it's proof that MediaOne -- the company that sells ads for, prints and distributes the Trib and Deseret News as well as a number of niche publications such as In This Week -- is so divorced from its journalistic mission that's it's willing to subvert the "marketplace of ideas."

This year, a number of City Weekly street boxes were vandalized by someone using a specific tool, with the net effect of making the box look empty to the passerby. Granted, it could have been a disgruntled politician who went on a rampage, but this was an ongoing, concerted endeavor -- we would fix the boxes and they would be vandalized a few weeks later. Who has time or motive for that? We've yet to catch the vandal but you can be sure it is someone who has little love for news but a far greater love for numbers and profit.

A while back, we became aware that In This Week was incorrectly stating its circulation numbers. We looked into it and found that not only were its circulation numbers inaccurate, but the paper hadn't been audited for the previous year, despite continuing to use the Verified audit logo on its masthead. Josh Loftin wrote a story about MediaOne's lies but we decided against running it because we didn't want his story, which is really about a company lying to its customers, coming off as self-serving. We were gratified, then, that after Loftin's calls to In This Week, they immediately pulled the Verified logo from the paper's masthead.

But in light of MediaOne's distribution tactics, I've decided to publish Loftin's story. You can read it here.

I thought about calling MediaOne to lodge a complaint, but where does one go to do that? One reader recently told me he called MediaOne to change his daily newspaper subscription. "It used to be that you'd call what was then the Newspaper Agency Corporation and talk to a sweet old lady and get your address changed," he said. "But now they send you to a call center in Barbados."

We've also learned that the MediaOne graphic-design department is next on the chopping block, with its 12 jobs to be outsourced to India.

It defies credulity that our "Shop Local" hometown papers would sit idly by while the jobs of its own workers migrated offshore.

MediaOne's move to West Valley City, leaving its editorial offices downtown, is proving to be its undoing. The once-integrated news organization cut its head off from its legs. MediaOne hasn't a clue what it should stand for. Is it any wonder that people think newspapers are dying?

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Jerre Wroble

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