When a Maryland Delegate Ignores the First Amendment

It’s beneficial to be the only reporter at a meeting. At a work session of the Carroll County Delegation to the General Assembly, a Maryland politician took newspapers to task for their delivery method. And her bill to restrict that went further than we thought despite being a First Amendment issue.

At the time in 2008, the bedroom communities in suburban Maryland were inundated with news. Especially free weeklies. It was possible that your home could receive The Examiner, The Eagle, The Advocate, The Gazette — all free publications — in your driveway plus whatever paper you paid to subscribe to. If I recall, the Eagle and Advocate had paid to be sent via the mail.

You can see how this would be a nuisance during rain or on vacation. As a news outlet, you’re having to defend your turf in reporting because you want a job and you want your stories to be read.

In the long-run, this was for naught. Despite a delivery pact being signed, most of these papers aren’t in business. The Gazette shuttered all operations; The Examiner stopped printing papers in Baltimore; The Eldersburg and Westminster editions of the Eagle turned into the Carroll Eagle and was inserted in the Sunday Baltimore Sun; and The Advocate was eliminated as it was owned by the Carroll County Times, which was bought by the Sun.

Thursday, Nov. 1, 2007

Delegate proposes fines for unsolicited publications

Bill would require papers to set up ‘do-not-deliver’ list

 

Maryland Del. Tanya T. Shewell would like to fine publishers $100 every time they deliver a newspaper to a home at which the resident has asked to stop delivery.

‘‘If people can say ‘do not call me,’ then people can say ‘do not drop papers on my lawn,’” said Shewell (R-Dist. 5A) of Westminster.

Shewell’s discussion about her bill was part of a work session in Westminster with the Carroll County Delegation to the General Assembly last week about bills that could be proposed in the 2008 legislative session.

She said she expects to introduce her bill in January.

Her bill would be a consumer protection measure that requires publications to place a toll-free number in a prominent place so residents can request delivery be stopped, Shewell said.

The publisher would then have seven days to stop delivery. If the publisher fails, he or she would be fined up to $100 per occurrence.

‘‘This would work similar to the Do Not Call list,” Shewell said.

Residents would remain on the list for three years, then the term would expire, and the paper could deliver again. Shewell said she chose three years because it is the average time a family lives in a house.

Shewell said piles of newspapers in driveways are an environmental and a security concern. ‘‘People know you’re not home when they see 30 papers in your yard,” she said.

She added that it is the top concern of her constituents, and that she has received support from Baltimore County residents. ‘‘I’ve received more calls about this than taxes,” she said.

Her constituents’ complaints are mostly with The Baltimore Examiner and The Merchandiser, Shewell said.

Baltimore Examiner Publisher Michael Beatty and Valerie Stokes, general manager of The Merchandiser, did not return messages seeking comment by The Gazette’s Wednesday deadline.

The Gazette also delivers to homes unsolicited in its circulation area, a practice the industry refers to as total market coverage. It also maintains a ‘‘do-not-deliver” list.

Carriers receive a copy of the do-not-deliver list, said Jean Casey, circulation and marketing director for Post-Newsweek Media Inc., publisher of The Gazette.

If carriers deliver unwanted papers to residents on the list, they are retrained, then fined; if the carrier does not deliver the paper correctly after several warnings, he or she is fired, Casey said.

Community circulation territory supervisors help carriers understand where delivery should be stopped or pick up papers that should not be delivered, she added.

‘‘We have regulation systems in place, and we feel we do a good job of managing it, and don’t really need an external rule because there’s varying circumstances of why something has been missed,” she said.

People can call 301-670-7530 for circulation feedback.

Jack Murphy, executive director of the Maryland Delaware D.C. Press Association, said Shewell’s bill unnecessarily involves the General Assembly. He said people can instead talk to the publishers and newspapers.

‘‘No publisher wants to deliver a publication that the reader doesn’t want,” he said. ‘‘All publishers seek to improve their delivery system, so papers don’t go to people who don’t want them.”

Systems to stop delivery are in place, he added. ‘‘Almost every free newspaper that I know of has a system for stopping unwanted delivery,” he said. ‘‘And they try to make that system work the best they can. It doesn’t always work, but they try doing their best.”

The First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of the press and freedom of speech, covers distributing and printing newspapers, he said.

Shewell said she is for freedom of the press, and does not see her bill as infringing that right. Even if the bill does not pass or is not supported, Shewell said she hopes it would open a conversation to address the issue. ‘‘At least it will get people talking,” she said.

Monday, Feb. 11, 2008

Publishers crafting compromise to bill that targets unsolicited newspapers

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