Scoring Wins At The Postal Service p.15

By: Mark Fitzgerald Community newspapers reportedly doing well in their battles with their perennial Nemesis sp.

COMMUNITY NEWSPAPERS ARE doing surprisingly well in their continuing battles with that perennial Nemesis, the Postal Service, according to the National Newspaper Association's leading authority on mail.
In the past few years, community papers have managed to hold in-county second-class rates ? the mail classification most important to small-town publishers ? to either flat or small increases. They have convinced the Postal Service to reexamine the arcane cost-accounting that some publishers believe overestimate the true cost of second-class delivery. In March, thanks in large part to NNA efforts, the Postal Service began allowing mailed newspapers to include such previously prohibited supplements as buyers' guides, annual reports, plastic "trick-or-treat" bags and oversized posters.
And community papers will soon learn if their pressure has helped kill a controversial second-class reclassification proposal favored by some big national newspapers and magazines.
"We don't want to be arrogant, but we are darn near getting cocky about it because as [NNA members and staff] go to Washington, we don't even see any proponents [of second-class reclassification] who think this thing will pass in any recognizable form," Max Heath told the recent NNA convention in St. Paul.
Heath, vice president of Landmark Community Newspapers in Shelbyville, Ky., is chairman of NNA's Postal Committee and an acknowledged expert on the often abstruse subject of mail rates.
And these days, Max Heath is also upbeat about the Postal Service.
"One of the reasons I am still somewhat of an optimist on the future of postal rates is because we do have quite a bit of clout with legislators," Heath said.
Among the best examples of that clout, Heath said, was the Postal Rate Commission's decision, three years ago, to keep in-county rates flat until 1998, except for a 1% to 2% adjustment each October. And Heath says he is optimistic that even when the so-called regular rate case comes up in three years, the rate will stay flat or be held to a small increase.
"In-county rates. Good deal today. Pretty good chance they'll be a good deal tomorrow," Heath said.
For NNA's Postal Committee, the most pressing issue is the proposed reclassification of second class, which would create a so-called "publications service" that would benefit big-volume magazine and newspaper publishers.
NNA believes the reclassification would push up out-of-county requester rates by as much as 17%. And NNA is generally suspicious of splitting the mail stream in second class.
"We don't think it's fair that there should be different services for the haves and have-nots ? and we're the poor and unwashed and unbound have-nots in this scenario," Heath said.
Heath said he is confident, however, that this "poorly drawn" proposal is going nowhere.
"One thing you can always count on with the post office is their incompetence," Heath said. "And that incompetence extends into rate-making."
A decision on reclassification ? which also includes proposals, likely to be more successful, for changes in the first and third classes ? must be made by Jan. 24 and may come as early as Christmas, Heath said.
For the long term, NNA will continue to oppose so-called postal reform that will reduce regulatory oversight of the Postal Service, Heath said.
Especially alarming, Heath said, is a trend to restrict access to such information as second- and third-class mailing statements, an important element in keeping competition level.
" 'Postal reform,' for most of us that's a dirty word," Heath told the NNA convention, "because we're pretty pleased with the way the system is going now."


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