NNA to Postal Regulators: Dropping Saturday Delivery Will Hurt Rural America and Its Newspapers

By: E&P Staff

Witnesses for the National Newspaper Association (NNA) told the Postal Regulatory Commission Thursday that the Postal Service’s proposal to stop Saturday mail delivery will hurt rural America and the newspapers that serve it.

NNA’s postal expert, Max Heath, told the commission that losing Saturday mail will deeply affect many newspapers that count on the USPS for delivery over the weekend.

A particular loss, he said, would be reporting on high school sports.

“The loss of Saturday mail will deeply affect many newspapers that count on USPS for delivery over the weekend, Heath testified. A particular loss will be reporting on high school sports.

“Publishers are rightly concerned about the reporting of local sports,” Heath said. “That may seem like a parochial fret to someone in Washington, D.C., but anyone who has roots in a small town can attest that the high school football and basketball teams form the nucleus of community gatherings. If the Postal Service’s mission is still to bind the nation together, it must use the bindings that the community chooses, not ones selected by Washington. High school sports help bind small towns together — even more than small post offices, in my humble opinion.”

Rural Americans depend on print newspapers, argued Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky.

“The latest data from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, gathered in December 2009, show that while the percentage of rural Americans using the Internet has come close to the overall percentage, they are likely to get less from it, because they lack high-speed broadband and make less use of interactive features,” Cross told the commission.

While broadband service penetration was 61% of households in urban American, it was just 47% in rural areas, he added.

Dropping Saturday mail will also breed more competition for the Postal Service, NNA’s Heath warned. Publishers will create or turn to private delivery service – reversing one of the few growth areas for USPS delivery, within county newspapers.

 “Within County newspaper mail is the only product in market dominant mail that has seen growth in the past few years, having grown 12.8% in pieces in fiscal year 2008, then 3.4% fiscal year 2009,” Heath said. “So far in 2010, pieces have grown 2.6% for the first six months, with the second quarter showing acceleration to 3.6%.”

Reducing service in this economy “is a recipe for business failure” for the Postal Service, said NNA President Cheryl Kaechele, publisher of the Allegan County (Mich.) News.

Cross told the commission, which sets postal rates, that reducing postal delivery “will reduce the quality of life in rural America, making it a less attractive place to live. The resulting out-migration, and suppression of in-migration, will contribute to population loss and stagnation in rural counties and add to suburban sprawl that drains other public resources.”

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