So after all is said and done, the Mobile City Council essentially slapped the Press-Register with a wet noodle over its unrelenting tossing of unwanted, unsolicited, unenvironmentally friendly advertising circulars across the city each week.
The council had been working an ordinance to stop the distribution of Gulf Coast Live (formerly known as Bargain Finder) and Yes!, but at every turn the Press-Register’s attorneys threatened an expensive lawsuit. On Tuesday the P-R won the battle. The council did pass a resolution, but it has no teeth and appears to depend pretty heavily upon self-reporting by the Press-Register to even work.
The ordinance will still allow the P-R to throw these wet bags of ads into people’s yards. (They always seem to be wet at least.) The company has 14 days to honor no-throw requests, meaning it gets two more shots at your yard. If, after that, they continue throwing them, there could be fines of $250 to $500, which I would imagine would be immediately challenged by company lawyers.
The ordinance does say they can’t be thrown in public right-of-ways, but who’s to say if they were washed there or moved by someone else.
The really beautiful part of the ordinance is that the P-R will supply the city with a copy of the no-throw list each month, as if that will do anything. We all know the biggest complaint regarding these circulars is that people call to get them stopped and it never happens. Clearly the list keeping at P-R central isn’t all that good. So we’re supposed to believe they’ll suddenly start keeping an accurate list of people who asked to be taken off the route and then hand that over to the city?
If that list has the same level of veracity as their published circulation figures, then good luck.
On top of that, nothing changes until September. That’s four more months.
As this stands Joe Citizen who doesn’t want the bag of ads thrown in his yard must call the P-R’s number and sit on the line to put his name on the list. That has taken more than 11 minutes in the past. What if the P-R just makes that a bit more annoying? How many people will give up?
So if our intrepid citizen does manage to get through, he’ll still get the bag tossed in his yard, even if he’s out of town, for two weeks, alerting local burglars he’s not there. But if after two weeks the bags keep coming, he’s supposed to call the city’s 311 line and hope something happens. If Joe wants to see the P-R fined he’s probably going to have to do a lot of video taping as well.
Sounds like an awful lot of work for Joe Citizen just to keep an unwanted product out of his yard.
I know the council felt like they were in a tight spot with this ordinance, but I think they missed the chance to lead and instead kowtowed to the neighborhood bully. Yes, there is plenty of case law regarding newspapers’ First Amendment rights when it comes to tossing unsolicited materials, but it seems to me the environmental issues at stake here would give this the twist it needs.
Which takes precedent, the P-R’s right to call a bag of ads a newspaper and throw it in the street, or the city and citizens’ rights not to be fined by ADEM for all of that trash winding up in local waterways?
We weighed one of the Gulf Coast Lifes last week and it came in right about half a pound. The Press-Register throws roughly 200,000 of these a week, according to their own numbers, across Mobile and Baldwin Counties. That’s 100,000 pounds a week, or 50 tons a week, that either has to be recycled or winds up in the landfill or in local waterways.
Obviously the city’s ordinance wouldn’t stop all of that, but it might go a long way to helping Mobile clean up a bit.
One other thing to point out is that the P-R can’t SELL its papers anywhere it pleases. Privately owned properties have the right to tell those of us in the news biz whether we can or can’t place our boxes on their properties or in their businesses. But somehow if we throw them at their business, it’s OK????
So what’s next? City Councilman John Williams probably hit the nail on the head last week when he said groups of citizens are going to start boycotting advertisers whose ads appear in Gulf Coast Life. That too is a lot of work.
In Tacoma, Washington, citizens have formed a group called Return to Sender that gathers these unwanted things up and dumps them back on the newspaper’s doorstep each week. I’ve been told it’s already become common to see a number thrown back at the P-R’s new pad on Royal Street downtown. Throwback Thursday might be gaining steam.
Since the new ordinance isn’t likely to do much of anything it seems Mobilians are either going to have to take things into their own hands or just live in the Press-Register’s litter.
WALA wins regional Murrow Award
FOX10 was awarded a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association this week in feature reporting in the Small Market Television Division.
Reporter Chasity Byrd and videographer Joah Norris received the award for their story on Charles Graham, a local man who has spent a lifetime overcoming a variety of obstacles.
“To receive such a prestigious award is truly an honor,” said Gary Yoder, vice president and general manager of WALA FOX10.
His sentiments were echoed by News Director Scott Flannigan.
“This represents what we try to achieve each and every day at FOX10,” he said. “Our ongoing commitment is to provide meaningful and relevant news, weather and information for all of our viewers. This story allowed us to share a remarkable moment in the life of one of our neighbors.”
“Unsung: Charles Graham” is now eligible for a National Edward R. Murrow award which will be determined later this year.