Va. Officials Get an Earful about Free Papers

By: Jennifer Saba The free newspapers popping up across the country signal a new wave of energy from a rather staid industry. There are a few variations on the concept, one of which is to home-deliver the papers to specific zones and ZIP codes. But some residents who find themselves in the target demographic aren't so pleased with the gusto.

Martin Nohe, an elected supervisor for the Coles District within Prince William County, Va., which is outside Washington, D.C., told E&P that he has received numerous complaints from constituents about the free papers delivered to their homes. These residents, mostly the elderly and frequent travelers, have tried to ?opt-out? of home delivery to no avail and have contacted Nohe's office for help.

?We've received calls in the double digits,? Nohe said. ?We had complaints about the Journal and other publications.? He explained that once The Examiner launched in February, the calls ?kicked into high gear.?

Journal Newspapers was purchased by the Clarity Media Group and transformed into the Examiner.

James McDonald, president and publisher of the Examiner, said that the opt-out rate has been less than 3% for the paper, which just recently increased its press run to 268,000 from 260,000. ?Can we do a better job on our stops? Of course,? he said, adding that he has not heard of any complaints from residents trying to block the paper from being delivered to their homes.

The problem has existed in Coles, which has 45,000 people, before the launch of the Examiner. He recalled that one resident pulled up to the county offices in a pick up truck with a loaded bed of free papers. They had been fished out of the neighborhood's storm drains.

Nohe's office can only write letters to the publishers on the behalf of residents. The County Attorney's office informed the district that free papers are protected under the First Amendment. McDonald said that to his knowledge, the Examiner had not received any letters.

E&P contacted the six other districts within Prince William County, which has a population of about 330,000. Only one other district confirmed that have been receiving calls from residents about free papers. Gainesville District Supervisor John Stirrup, Jr. said it was on his radar screen but he's fielded only a handful of complaints. ?The constituents have concerns about littering and it's a more of a safety concern if they travel,? he said.


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