It's no great mystery that newspapers are struggling with a near-apocalyptic business forecast. Most readers are settling for smaller papers, fewer reporters and less coverage. But Keith Hemstead is a newspaper reader who won't settle for less, and he's suing his paper to try and save it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: News organizations, editors and bloggers all are dealing with the financial difficulties newspapers face, but what about readers? What recourse have they if they're upset with a paper’s efforts to downsize? They could write a letter, cancel their subscription, or even —sue? That’s the line of attack chosen by a newspaper reader in Durham, North Carolina.
Attorney Keith Hempstead recently filed a lawsuit against his local paper, The News and Observer, and its parent company, McClatchy Newspapers, after they laid off 70 employees and announced cuts to the news pages. He says he’s mad, and he’s not going to take it any more. KEITH HEMPSTEAD: I'm suing because I'm upset with the state of the newspaper industry in general, and I feel like I can represent subscribers to the various McClatchy newspapers that are frankly upset with the state of the industry and how it’s being run. BROOKE GLADSTONE: But what’s the charge? KEITH HEMPSTEAD: The charge in this case is fraud. BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] KEITH HEMPSTEAD: I'm stating or alleging that when I renewed my newspaper subscription, I was relying upon a superior product, but with these cuts, that were announced after I renewed the newspaper, I feel like I'm getting the short end of the stick.
I liken it to someone who buys a ticket to go cross country on an airline and the airline announces that they instead will be flying only to Denver versus, say, Los Angeles. BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] KEITH HEMPSTEAD: Well, I am able to take a flight but it’s not to my intended destination. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Forgive me here, but most unsatisfied readers would just cancel their subscription. Why did you decide to take the legal route?
KEITH HEMPSTEAD: Because I realize, as a former newspaper reporter, that canceling a single subscription doesn't really send a point to the newspaper. I feel like this is a way of firing a shot across the bow of the newspaper industry. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, you've said this lawsuit isn't about the money, but you are suing for an unspecified amount of damages and attorney’s fees. Now, in the unlikely chance that you would actually win this case KEITH HEMPSTEAD: And it is highly unlikely. BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] — wouldn't you be doing your paper more harm than good? KEITH HEMPSTEAD: The point is to get the attention of the industry. I'm hoping at least that this will create some discussion within the upper management as well as within the industry in general, and, hopefully, amongst other readers. I'm sure that there are plenty of other readers that feel like me. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, you've made this shot across the bow. How do you really expect this lawsuit to play out? KEITH HEMPSTEAD: It will be most likely resolved in the next week or two. You know, most suits that are filed never actually go before a jury. They're settled one way or another. What I am hoping for is at least an opportunity to really speak to management and to have an opportunity to maybe write an Op Ed piece to show the frustration of newspaper readers in general.
At the same time, I have been in contact with a law firm of national prominence that is at least looking at the possibility of pursuing the lawsuit. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, if you could actually take a meeting with upper management rather than just suing them, what’s your main beef? What do you think they're doing wrong in the face of an industry in so much turmoil? KEITH HEMPSTEAD: They are destroying their principle product. And if they are hoping that they will be able to adapt to the Internet age with a new business model, then they are deceiving themselves, because by the time they are able to come to a new business model, they will no longer have any reporters to actually cover the news.
It boggles the mind that these great businesses are destroying themselves within. And I realized that most of those people who work in these newspapers are afraid to speak up because their job might be next. Someone has to speak out for them. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Keith, thank you very much. KEITH HEMPSTEAD: You’re welcome. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Keith Hempstead is a former newspaper reporter, also a real estate developer and a real estate attorney.