The phone rings a couple of days later. And the voice on the other end says, "Hello. I'm Francis J. Farquhar, publisher of the Daily Tattler-Fishwrap. I'm told you cancelled your subscription the other day, and I'm calling to find out why you don't like us anymore."
It's right about now when Rod Serling pops up and says "Submitted for your approval ..."
I wonder how many ex-readers of the Philadelphia Inquirer felt they'd entered The Twilight Zone when calls like that came in earlier this year.
In his textbook on community journalism, University of North Carolina journalism instructor Jock Lauterer raises this question: "Whose newspaper is it, anyway?" When the customer has a beef, it's because, "It's MY newspaper, and I don't like what you've done to it."
That's been a problem with some newspaper consultants, however. Most content presentations during my career offer a twin theme: what existing readers like and dislike about the paper, and what would make those readers even happier. That's not much to go on, if you're trying to get circulation and penetration numbers up.
It's good to see the Arizona Daily Star make such a sweeping move early on to find out what the public expects from, and demands of, its morning newspaper.
The piece recounts Tom Miller's 1971 refusal to testify before a federal grand jury in Tucson that was probing, at Richard Nixon's request, various subversive groups involved in anti-war and other social activist causes.
It was a case folks watched. Miller was a freelancer, working for non-establishment media, and the judge he was up against was Nixon appointee William Frey.
In essence, the case was a meager move by the Nixonauts to argue that there were legitimate and illegitimate forms of media. In their eyes, freelancers and underground papers were of the latter class, and undeserving of the same First Amendment privileges accorded mainstream journalists and newspapers.
The best bet here is to check the Times' Web site for Tom's tale in his own words. It's great background for folks who don't know enough about First Amendment privilege to see what's been at stake in Judith Miller's case.
In an e-mail over the weekend, he offered a local addendum. Two Tucson (then-Daily) Citizen reporters, Julie Greene (now Julie Szekely) and Dennis Eskow, were among 17 journalists who submitted affidavits on Miller's behalf to the court. A week later, both had lost their jobs.