If you’re still getting those unsolicited throws of Press-Registers or their advertising circulars Bargain Finder and Yes, it’s because they’re exercising what they believe are their First Amendment rights, according to Mobile City Councilman Joel Daves.
Daves and City Attorney Ricardo Woods met with leadership from the Alabama Media Group, the statewide organization that runs the Press-Register, back in October to express concerns the rampant throwing of unsolicited materials was a major cause of litter in the city.
At the time the city said the P-R could face fines if the undesired throwing continued, but Daves says it appears not much has changed and the P-R is claiming a constitutional right to continue tossing the bags of ads into yards across the area.
“The claim they have a First Amendment right to throw those things out there,” Daves said.
The frustrated councilman said his research into the issue across the nation did not reveal many cities that have found a way to curb the trashy activities of their dominant or once-dominant local newspapers. He said the closest he could find was that New York has issued a sticker for residents to use to let newspapers know they’re not interested.
In Mobile, though, the issue is one that has created both aggravation for residents and a problem for the city. Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration has pointed to the unsolicited bags of pre-printed advertising as a major source of litter contributing to the city’s problem with waterway-clogging trash running into creeks and rivers during heavy rains. Daves said during discussions with the P-R they admitted to throwing more than 200,000 Bargain Finders a week in Mobile County.
“The problem for the city is guess who has to clean it up? We have to. It floats into the storm system and into Dog River. And what are we getting from the newspaper? Less and less each year,” he said. “I wish we had a solution.”
Efforts to contact the leadership at Alabama Media Group were unsuccessful, so it’s not clear whether the company believes it is being unfairly targeted by the city as a major source of litter, or if the company’s financial goals outweigh any environmental issues it may be creating. Anecdotal evidence, as well as first-hand observation, would suggest little has changed in terms of how many or how often Bargain Finder and Yes are being thrown. Certainly many readers have told this writer that they have asked that the products not be thrown only to have them continue.
At this point Daves said the Press-Register has not been ticketed for continuing to throw indiscriminately across the area. Much of the reason for that, he said, is people just have not been filing complaints. Ticketing would require a formal complaint being filed and the city’s 311 service coming to verify the problem.
But another part of the issue is the city having to try to handle a Goliath media company with deep pockets. Ticketing or otherwise trying to curtail the paper’s efforts to keep tossing the bags of ads is likely to lead to a legal showdown in which the city is likely to spend a lot of money fighting a fight it is likely to lose.
Daves said the P-R pointed to a ruling in an Ohio court of appeals that sided with a newspaper’s rights to throw unsolicited materials.
At the same time the P-R is essentially thumbing its nose at the city’s complaints that it is one of the areas major litterbugs, many citizens have complained about what they feel is a heavy-handed approach by the city to enforcement of the litter ordinance. Some have complained they received very large fines at properties where they weren’t aware issues existed.
Daves is hoping to possibly pass an ordinance that would require the paper to make the ways to discontinue the throws more prominent on their publications. Whether that would run up against the issue of a governmental agency requiring press content is a looming issue with that it would seem.
The councilman said some local leaders of the newspaper have been responsive when his office receives complaints about the products, but the out-of-town leadership has seemed uninterested in the city’s complaints. He said at this time the most people can do is call their complaints into 311.
Baldwin newspaper changes
As of this week the Gulf Coast Media chain will merge two of its papers and begin having its other three publish on Wednesdays, according to management.
GCM has consolidated The Robertsdale Independent and Baldwin Times in Bay Minette, creating a new newspaper called The Times Independent. The new paper will print on Wednesdays. The remaining newspapers — The Courier, The Islander and The Foley Onlooker, will continue to publish twice a week, but will move their mid-week edition to Wednesdays.
The move comes just months after the five-newspaper group was purchased by OPC News out of South Carolina. Group Publisher Sudie Gambrell said the merger of the Times and Independent will allow the new paper more resources to cover a larger area effectively. The move to publishing once a week is actually a move back to what has worked in the past she said.
“The independent and The Baldwin Times were once-a-week newspapers for years and years. They were twice-a-week newspapers for only the past three or four years, so we are truly going back to a former tradition with this particular change.
The Independent has been publishing since 1976, while the Baldwin Times has been going since 1890.
One of the biggest changes announced by GCM is the discontinuation of in-house printing of its publications. Management said the decision to close its printing shop was due to the age and condition of the equipment. No word on where the printing will be done, but the press crew was given a two-month notice in order to find new employment and management said most have.