Critics: Postal service plans put community newspapers at risk

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Updated 1 hour 45 minutes ago

The U.S. Postal Service’s plan to raise postal rates could deal a more damaging blow to community newspapers already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and declining advertising, according to a business group.

Rates on periodicals would increase by more than 8% as of Aug. 29, according to documents filed by the agency. The price hike is part of a broad plan pushed by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to overhaul mail operations.

The impact of the periodic rate increases is expected to be felt mostly by small dailies and weeklies, as well as rural newspapers, which have relied on the postal service since they stopped relying on independent contractors for deliveries.

In response, publishers could potentially be forced to further reduce their staff or forgo door-to-door deliveries entirely and instead send articles to communal newspaper stands, or even shut down their newspapers, said Paul Boyle, vice-president. – senior chairman of the News Media Alliance, a trade association representing nearly 2,000 news agencies in the United States

“This is one of the many slashes and slashes that can hurt results, especially if you’re a freelance publisher operating at breakeven or low profitability numbers. And most are, ”said Penelope Muse Abernathy, a professor at Northwestern University who has extensively studied the decline of the news industry.

For some, this could be the tipping point for survivability, Boyle said.

The News Media Alliance, in comments opposing the rate increases, told the Independent Postal Regulatory Commission that the plans “end up harming the public interest while doing little to improve the postal service’s finances. “.

In a statement, Postal Service spokesperson David Partenheimer said agency executives are “committed to judiciously implementing a rational pricing approach that allows us to remain viable and competitive and to deliver services. reliable postal services that are among the most affordable in the world ”.

“Although the price paid by newspapers varies depending on how they prepare and enter their newspapers into our system, the average price increase proposed for newspapers for local delivery is 10.6 cents to 11.4 cents. cents or 0.8 cents, less than a cent, “he said.

The newspaper industry has suffered greatly over the past two decades. Advertising has dried up on the Internet and readership has plummeted. More than 2,100 newspapers in the United States have closed in the past 15 years, the majority of which are weeklies that serve local communities, according to a study from the University of North Carolina.

During the same period, the readership of regular newspapers fell by half, according to the researchers.

Employment in newspaper newsrooms stood at 74,410 in 2006, the last year that figure increased from a year earlier, according to the Pew Research Center in a study released last week. In 2020, there were 30,820 people in newsrooms.

DeJoy, along with Ron Bloom, chairman of the agency’s board, presented the Postal Service’s 10-year plan in March, arguing that significant changes would be needed to stem an expected loss of $ 160 billion over the next decade.

The strategy includes relaxing delivery standards for first-class mail going to the furthest parts of its network, from a benchmark goal of one to three days to a goal of one to five days. Postal officials said 70 percent of mail would still be delivered within three days. Postal executives are also preparing to increase the price of a first-class stamp from 55 cents to 58 cents, and want to consolidate underutilized post offices and invest in new delivery vehicles.

Democrats have criticized the plan as an unacceptable decline in the postal service and renewed calls for the removal of DeJoy, a major Republican donor who has been in the throes of controversy since the agency’s takeover last year.

DeJoy, a wealthy former logistics official who also donated to former President Donald Trump, gained national attention last year when he implemented a series of operational changes that he said aimed to improve efficiency but caused widespread delivery delays ahead of the 2020 election as millions braced to vote by mail. He was also blamed for a sharp drop in on-time deliveries around the holiday season last year.

After Trump’s defeat, Democrats again pushed for DeJoy’s ouster. In late May, the Senate approved three new people, appointed by President Joe Biden, to the Postal Service’s board, giving Democrats a majority on the board.

Still, DeJoy maintained he intended to stay in his post and told members of Congress at a hearing this year: “Get used to me. Bloom backed DeJoy, telling lawmakers in February that the Postmaster General was “doing a good job.”

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Izaguirre reported from Lindenhurst, New York. Bauder reported from Ithaca, New York.

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The Associated Press’s coverage of voting rights is supported in part by Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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