By: Joe Strupp
Two of the newspaper industry’s most influential organizations are feuding over whether to support federal legislation to change the way U.S. postal rates are set. One industry insider calls it “The Shootout at the OK Corral.”
The conflict over the Postal Modernization Act, sponsored by Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., pits the National Newspaper Association (NNA), representing weekly newspapers, against the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), representing daily newspapers. When the bill first surfaced in 1996, both the NNA and the NAA had worried that it would spark an increase in postal rates for newspapers, and give the U.S. Postal Service too much flexibility to make rate changes.
But that unity changed June 23 when the NNA board of directors voted to endorse the bill after several meetings with McHugh and his staff. NNA officials say the change came about after McHugh promised that he would alter the bill to guarantee more controls on postal rate increases.
“McHugh has addressed over 95% of our mailing concerns through this agreement,” says Lockwood Phillips, NNA president.
Key among the bill’s additions sought by NNA officials was an expansion of the in-county postal rate for newspapers to include newspapers sent outside county lines, and a lower rate for mailings of up to 5,000 copies outside county lines, according to Senny Boone, NNA director of government relations.
But when NAA officials got wind of the NNA decision to support the bill, they were not happy. Six days after the NNA board voted to support the postal bill, NAA chairman William S. Morris fired off an angry letter to numerous publishers opposing the NNA move and declaring that the NAA remained in opposition to the proposal.
“NNA has fractured [our] united front without notice to, or consultation with, NAA,” the letter says.
NAA president John Sturm added to Morris’ anger with a terse letter to Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., who chairs the House Government Affairs Committee that is currently reviewing the legislation. Sturm’s letter reiterates the group’s opposition to the bill, despite the NNA change of heart.
“Our principal issues have not been addressed,” the letter says.
NAA officials say their chief complaints are that the bill would; allow the Postal Service to create a private subsidiary that could possibly take over competitive direct-mail companies, give the Postal Service power to unilaterally set rates that discriminate without Postal Rate Commission review, and pave the way for cut-rate Postal Service deals with advertising mail products.
“It creates more problems than solutions,” says Sturm.
Dana Johnson, a spokeswoman for McHugh, says he wanted to work out an agreement with NNA and believes that he has made positive changes.
Johnson is not surprised at the NAA-NNA furor, since the two have different concerns related to postal matters.
“One relies on the Postal Service, and the other considers the Postal Service their competition,” says Johnson. “There is a difference of opinion on the bill.”
NNA’s Phillips says he does not believe this conflict will hurt the ability of the two groups to work together in the future.
“I think it’s a bump in the road,” Phillips says. “In the overall scheme of things, the newspaper industry has significant challenges, and the Postal Service portends to be the least of them.”
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