By: Kelvin Childs
Program had angered newspaper publishers
Merchandise such as mugs, earrings, ties and T-shirts will no longer be sold at the nation’s post offices, in a policy change announced Aug. 11 by Postmaster General William J. Henderson.
The U.S. Postal Service’s previous emphasis on new ventures in merchandising had been a sore point for many newspaper publishers who held that
the agency should focus on improving mail delivery rather than huckstering souvenirs and bric-a-brac.
Henderson, who became postmaster general in May, has indicated that the friction the program was causing with newspapers and retailers wasn’t worth the benefit.
The USPS originally began selling consumer products with images from stamps on them but then expanded to include cartoon characters and other kinds of images. Lobby and counter areas at some post offices across the country have come to resemble mall stores.
“We expect these items to be off the shelves no later than early 1999,” after current inventories are sold, wrote Henderson in a letter to the House Appropriations Committee.
The items will still be sold from the Postal Service’s Web site (www.usps.gov), catalogs, and
at the Postmark America store at the Mall of America.
USPS spokesman Roy Betts admitted that many businesspeople, as well as members of the general public, didn’t feel that “the Postal Service shouldn’t be doing these things.”
A previous postmaster general, Anthony M. Frank, ended sales of all such items in 1992 before he left the office. His successor, Marvin T.
Runyon, brought back the sales ? viewing them as a source of revenue as well as a promotional gimmick.
John F. Sturm, president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, said he met with the new postmaster the day before the announcement. “He seems to be looking to chart a different relationship with newspapers,” Sturm said, with the Postal Service acting more as a partner and less as a competitor. The end of merchandise sales was a positive signal, he said. “It’s a small sign of what I hope will be a significant change in direction.”
Betts said, “We can make this policy change and not run the risk of bankrupting the Postal Service.” He had no figures on how much revenue the merchandise brings in.
Colorizing Wedding Announcements
Weddings are a staple on the Spokesman-Review’s Chronicle page, but the newspaper’s diversity committee recently noted something askew: virtually all of the married couples were of European-American heritage.
So the Spokane, Wash., daily made a project out of diversifying the page in an effort to better reflect the fact that about 8% of the county’s residents are people of color. First, the Perspective page ran a story by committee member Jamie Tobias Neely, who observed, “Unfortunately, it sometimes seems as if only white couples get married.”
Her piece examined the reasons for the disparity and invited all readers to alert the newspaper to their engagements, weddings, anniversaries and 100th birthdays.
The next day, the diversity committee mailed letters to more than 60 churches, community groups and wedding photographers.
It asked their help in reaching residents of all backgrounds, and included copies of Neely’s article and the newspaper’s marriage announcement form.
“What we really want is for people to bring in their pictures and for us to publish them in the paper,” said editor Chris Peck. “It’s a worthwhile and important part of what our newspaper should do.”
Peck acknowledged that African-American readers saw so few pictures of black people on the wedding page that “some people assumed we purposely excluded them. It wasn’t someone saying, ‘Let’s not bother with this.’ I don’t think it was a conscious effort.”
But the newspaper’s assumption “was flawed” that readers understood their wedding an-
nouncements would be printed, Peck said, adding, “A lot of people didn’t know we had a non-
discriminatory policy, or a lot of people didn’t believe it.”
Since the Perspective page story on June 2, several wedding announcements from African- Americans and Asians have trickled in, said Neely, who noted that the story was reprinted in the monthly Spokane African-American Voice.
Still, nobody expects a deluge of announcements from minorities. Said Peck: “We recognize that this is a missing element in our coverage. Now we’ve got to go the extra mile.”
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site:http://www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher August 22,1998) [Caption]