April 22, 2024

Newspapers Still Fit Postal Service Mission

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The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people.

Postal Reorganization 

Act of 1970

At the National Newspaper Association and Foundation’s annual convention in San Francisco last week, Postmaster Louis DeJoy outlined his plans for streamlining the United States Postal Service to significantly reduce its operating deficits.

We found a couple of his suggestions via his online address more than a little condescending. If you just know about newspapers and don’t know about logistics, and criticize or get in the way to the extent that we get slowed down, the mission will fail, DeJoy said.

“To the extent people are parochial in their needs and use influence to slow us down, we can only handle so much of that. It is consequential,” he said.

Newspapers have influence with their members of Congress, he acknowledged. He just doesn’t want us using that influence to support the future of community newspapers in the mail. We are to absorb the cost increases and service delays resulting from reshaping the Postal Service into a business. The service days are over.

His plans could mean the loss of hundreds of more newspapers in America.

For many in small communities around the nation, where the newspaper is the sole news source, an affordable and reliable Postal Service is critical to their survival.

There is overwhelming evidence that the internet has not been the provider of information that builds a stronger democracy with a more well-informed citizenry – the opposite has been the reality.

We are less informed as the internet giants, Google, Apple, and Facebook, have destroyed the revenue sources for newspapers that provided local news. We have seen the destructive power of the concentration of ownership of newspapers by investors whose only interest is profit. They eviscerate reporting staff, sell buildings, and use answering machines rather than employees. Too many community newspapers are ghosts of their former prominence in the community or have disappeared entirely.

Without local news, people are left to national reporting that is too often divisive and focused on the sensational. We become isolated in our bitter political camps rather than fellow citizens working toward the common good. We are overwhelmed with disinformation on the internet that gets us believing lies that create even deeper divisions.

Community newspapers are a public good. We are fundamental to an informed electorate. As such, our delivery costs should be unwritten by the federal government just as they were at the nation’s founding. 

But we are headed in the wrong direction under DeJoy, who dismisses any thought of the American public helping support the Postal Service.

For much of the Postal Service’s history, the public supported its mission.

“From the 1850s until the 1960s, Congress routinely covered whatever deficits the Postal Service incurred — no matter how large — and with little controversy, partisanship or debate,” Richard R. John, a professor at the Columbia Journalism School, wrote in a guest column for The Washington Post in 2020. “Why? Because the Postal Service was a public service, whose rationale was civic rather than commercial.”

It’s civic mission roots go back to The Postal Service Act of 1792 with its mandate to subsidize “the circulation of newspapers throughout the country on a non-preferential basis and at an extremely low cost. Not only pro-government ideas but also anti-government ideas could circulate throughout the length and breadth of the republic,” John wrote.

Newspapers Postal costs are set to increase an average of 7.6% for local delivery in January. The planned increase adds to a price hike of around 7% from this past July. Combined, the two increases represent a jump of nearly 15% over six months.

DeJoy says the increases are needed in the face of inflation and as part of his Delivering for America plan for the Postal Service. We understand the Postal Service’s profits have also been devastated by the internet. At the same time, it has seen a significant increase in its package delivery service.

NNA Chair John Galer, publisher of the Hillsboro (Illinois) Journal-News, said the proposed increases were daunting. 

“We understand the damage that inflation inflicts upon the U.S. economy and, as loyal customers of the Postal Service in our industry for more than 200 years, we try to take actions to help USPS control its own expenses,” Galer said. “But price increases of this magnitude will hurt newspapers as well as the Postal Service.”

We are an “anchor” category of mail because we give people a reason to go to their mailbox. Hastening the loss of community newspapers hurts the Postal Service. 

Founder James Madison saw this low-cost distribution of newspapers as fundamental to the future of the new nation’s experiment with representative democracy. “A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to farce or tragedy or perhaps both.” 

We fear the farce and tragedy are unfolding. Community newspapers are challenged in today’s internet world. More than 2,100 have disappeared in the past 17 years. The Postal Service’s rate increases kill off more.

We fit the service mission of the Postal Service as much today as we did at the country’s founding. We still provide information critical to a representative democracy.

Community newspapers represent a fraction of the Postal Service’s volume and cost. The machinery that sorts the mail is in place. The personnel are in place to deliver our newspapers. The vehicles are in place. The post offices are here. 

Perhaps, for America’s rural community newspapers, there is also a home for help in the United States Department of Agriculture’s farm bill that will be passed in the coming year. It has dozens of programs aimed at improving life in rural America – ensuring the future of the community newspapers certainly would be among its most important achievements.

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