Selectmen say delivery of weekly newspaper causing "litter" in their communities
Officials from seven towns have complained in a letter to the ShoreLine Times that the delivery method of the free weekly newspaper is causing “litter” in their communities.
The first selectmen of Lyme, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, Westbrook, Essex, Chester and Deep River said they have "received numerous complaints" from homeowners that the newspapers, delivered in plastic bags by courier in their communities, end up in streets or remain on private property.
“As the municipal officials responsible for maintenance and upkeep of local roadways we consider those bags and newspapers, which end up and remain in the local roadway, as litter,” reads the Feb. 22 letter to executives of the ShoreLine Times, a publication of the New Haven Register.
Under state law, "there are monetary fines for throwing or otherwise disposing of litter," the letter continues. The officials add that they consider the newspaper's current distribution method "to non-subscribers of a newspaper" to be a "public nuisance" and request that this procedure stop.
Mark Brackenbury, the executive editor of Digital First Media/Connecticut, which includes the New Haven Register, said: "We are looking into the concerns raised by the first selectmen."
Old Saybrook First Selectman Carl Fortuna said he began getting complaints from residents about two to three months ago, about the time he believes the newspaper switched from delivering the newspaper by mail to delivering it by courier.
He said the newspapers are usually thrown on driveways but sometimes end up on lawns and roads instead. When it rains, the papers are washed farther afield.
"It's just not an optimal situation," he said.
Lyme First Selectman Ralph Eno said several residents complained to the Board of Selectmen, prompting the selectmen to direct the town attorney to send a letter to the newspaper.
The letter says the delivery of newspapers wrapped in plastic on driveways and lawns is "not only unsightly, but also creates security concerns due to accumulation on the property of many part-time residents. Complaints to the Circulation Department have apparently gone unheeded."
"The Selectmen request you take immediate action to alleviate this situation through an alternative form of delivery," the letter of Dec. 11, 2015 concludes. "The Times is too valuable a news resource to be reduced to litter on driveways and lawns."
Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder, who said several residents approached her, said a major issue is public safety.
An elderly person may not be able to leave the house and the papers could pile up, thus indicating there is no one at home, she pointed out.
She added that the delivery method is particularly concerning for an unsolicited newspaper, because people don't expect it to be delivered, unlike a newspaper to which they subscribe.
"I think they need to stop throwing them in driveways, as far as we are concerned," she said. "We are sensitive to the fact that they are trying to find a delivery system, but when it comes to the public safety of our residents, it’s just not acceptable."
Some residents said the publication should be mailed through the postal service.
Chris Roosevelt, a resident of Lyme, said by email that the ShoreLine Times "is indiscriminately thrown around neighborhoods on public roadways and private driveways, causing a trash blight in those neighborhoods and offering no way to get rid of the trash — or any option to stop such distribution (despite numerous complaints and objections)."
Brackenbury declined to comment further.
Meanwhile, Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Saybrook, and Rep. Jay Case, R-Winchester, have raised a bill in the House's Planning and Development Committee to require free, unsolicited newspapers to include a notice — either on the first or second page, or attached or delivered with the newspaper — on how to stop delivery. Failure to comply "shall be deemed an unfair or deceptive trade practice."
But newspaper executives have pushed back, saying the bill is discriminatory to newspapers, since it applies to unsolicited newspapers, regardless of how they are delivered, but not all unsolicited mail.
Carney said constituents and local first selectmen contacted him with complaints that the newspapers ended up in the streets and also posed a security issue when they pile up in front of homes that are seasonal, abandoned or up for sale.
He said Case was hearing similar complaints about a different publication than the ShoreLine Times in his part of the state.
Carney said in his testimony that he respects the hard work of the staff of local newspapers and that the bill "is not discrimination against newspapers, but rather a request from my constituents that their property be respected."
"The Shoreline Times piles up and lines the streets of my district, which creates both pollution and a public safety [issue] that cannot be ignored simply because it’s due to a newspaper," his written testimony stated. "... In the very least, these companies should allow people an easy way out as this bill suggests."
But Patrice Crosbie, the president of the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association, testified last Friday that the proposed bill is unnecessary — since people can call to ask to be taken off delivery lists — and threatens local, free publications across the state.
She said the bill would reduce circulation for newspapers, leading to lower advertising rates.
“The revenue loss at most of these papers would surely be the last straw to forcing closure,” she said in her written testimony. “These papers not only provide jobs, but also are a cost effective medium for small, local advertisers to reach a greater number of potential customers at an affordable rate.”
“The proposed bill is misguided and tramples all over the First Amendment,” Gary Farrugia, the publisher of The Day, said in an email interview. “The legislation makes no distinction between newspapers that are dropped in driveways and those that are distributed through the mail. The Day publishes 15 weekly newspapers that are mailed to more than 150,000 Southeast Connecticut households from the Rhode Island border to East Haven.
“If the aim of the legislation is to rescue citizens from the inconvenience of receiving unsolicited mail, why discriminate against newspapers only by targeting them for an opt-out rule?" Farrugia added. "Why not impose an opt-out regulation on all unsolicited mail, including political campaign advertising?”
The Day Publishing Co. mails free newspapers, such as The Lyme Times and The Waterford Times. Shore Publishing Co., owned by The Day, also mails free newspapers, like the Valley Courier and the Harbor News.
These newspapers, as well as the ShoreLine Times, list contact information within the publications.
Robyn Collins, the publisher of Shore Publishing Co., said at least 50 percent of recipients specifically affirm they want newspaper delivery, a requirement for its delivery status classification through the U.S. Postal Service.
But since the newspaper only runs one version for both "solicited" and "unsolicited," the newspaper would likely be affected by the bill.
She said the company includes circulation change information on the third page of its publications, so the bill would dictate the page to list information.
Carney said that he understands concerns and that it may be possible to reach a solution without legislation, but the bill's intent is to stop the current delivery system or to at least allow recipients an easy way to opt out of delivery.