Editorial: Newspapers and Aluminum Siding

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You know how CNN always says it's owned by AOL Time Warner as a matter of full disclosure whenever it reports on its parent company? Along those same lines, I want newspapers and magazines to mention that their circulation departments use telemarketing whenever they write about the national no-call registry. Reporters have sounded almost gleeful when writing about the registry these past two weeks. It's like they think they're leading a crusade against the evil empire when all they should be doing is informing their readers of the facts.


The New Jersey Star-Ledger wrote: "How Do You Spell Telemarketing Relief? D-o N-o-t C-a-l-l." "Sweet Sound of Silence" read a headline in the San Francisco Examiner. Newsweek began a story: "Finally, it's our turn to annoy the telemarketers." Note, in no way am I suggesting that anyone ignore writing about the registry or bury it on page 39. It is a big story. Need proof that telemarketers are annoying? Twenty-three million people signed up for the list in two weeks. But it will be interesting to read what reporters say when their newspapers see steep drops in circulation and lay off staff to cut costs. A lobbyist for the North Carolina Press Association told state legislators last month that more than half of new newspaper subscriptions are generated by telemarketing.


Many states exempted media groups and real estate agents from their no-call lists, but the Federal Communications Commission's revisions to telemarketing rules stemming from the Telephone Consumer Protection Act squelch that, creating a minimum standard: Anything more stringent is fine, but state-level legislation cannot go below it. Realtors and newspapers that thought they were safe are up in arms. "The barrage of new regulations ... can only hinder their ability to use this effective means of reaching out to potential readers," Newspaper Association of America's John F. Sturm said just after the FCC made its changes. Well, join the crowd. A newspaper is now the same as aluminum siding.


Also, why is it that no one can write the word telemarketer without also including that they're annoying and that they always call during dinnertime? Exactly when is dinnertime? My phone never rings during my dinner. But it's because I usually don't get around to eating till 9 p.m., and they can't call after that. Bucking the tide, however, a story in The New York Times last week actually went out of its way to find people sympathetic to telemarketers.


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