Pittsburgh newspapers fend off rack regulation p.16

By: Lucia Moses Pittsburgh newspapers have reached a compromise in an ongoing skirmish with city officials who want to regulate news racks.
The latest U.S. city to attempt in recent years to regulate racks, Pittsburgh is considering a newspaper group's proposal to let papers police their own racks instead of enacting new restrictions.
Council member Alan Hertzberg, who has led the charge to curb news racks, agreed to propose the voluntary program to the council, although he has "mixed feelings" about the program.
The battle started a year ago when Hertzberg informally proposed assessing a $10 per-rack fee for the first year and $5 every year thereafter and replacing free-standing boxes with modular ones. Hertzberg says the city has received complaints about news racks posing a hazard to emergency vehicles and the handicapped. His intent, he says, was to enforce the existing ordinance regulating placement of news racks near hydrants and crosswalks. A fee would help offset the cost of enforcing the existing rules, he says.
Declaring the proposals unconstitutional, the city's daily and weekly papers, which tend to have high, single-copy sales, formed the Newspaper Task Force to fight the proposed restrictions. The group has 17 members, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Greensburg Tribune-Review and USA Today. "We're pretty confident we're going to get a chance to work this thing out," says Charles Kelly, a lawyer with Kirkpatrick & Lockhart LLP, who represents the group.
Hertzberg, who chairs the city's public works committee, backed down after his proposal failed to get strong support from other council members. He proposed setting up a task force of city representatives, newspaper labor unions, newspapers, buildings, and handicapped associations to adopt the newspaper group's "Good Neighbor" program on a trial basis over the next year. A final vote is expected Feb. 16.
Papers in Pittsburgh rely on racks for roughly 40% of their sales, making them vulnerable to rack regulation, Kelly says.
"News racks are all the more important here," he says. There are 470 racks in the downtown area, Hertzberg says.
"We're a pretty savvy single-copy market," says Post-Gazette circulation director Thomas F. Pounds. "They represent 25 to 30% of your sales, you're going to protect that." The Post-Gazette relies on boxes for 25% to 30% of daily sales and 40% to 45% of Sunday sales, he says.
New Pittsburgh Courier publisher Rod Doss says his twice-weekly paper for black readers distributes 6,000 copies via boxes and has a paid circulation of 30,000. "Any infringement ? on our ability to place our news product will be just that, an infringement on our ability to get our word out," he says.
City officials and papers in San Francisco are in a similar battle over restrictions on what papers can be displayed at certain locations. Papers are suing the city and a vendor to stop enforcement of the restrictions. A federal court hearing is set for March 9.
And in Chicago, free papers and dailies agreed in July to experiment with a few multiple-title racks after the city tried to replace 560 individual racks with 60 multiple-title racks. That six-month trial period was renewed for another six months.
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?(copyright: Editor & Publisher February 6, 1999) [Caption]


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