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Crisis in Boulder's Publishing Community!!!

Llama Jockey May Fold

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, April 24, 2002.

The City of Boulder, in one of its prissy/sensible mentalities, has recently decided that the plethora of metal and plastic newspaper distribution cases have to be thinned out. In reality, what this means is that the main public journals, the Metropolitan Post/News and the Daily Camera et al, will be allowed to stay where they are because they actually pay for it. But many of the free papers, The Boulder Weekly, Colorado Daily, Niwot Auto Listing, Llama Jockey, and Swingers’ Guide to Frederick, may not be allowed to position their pastel shaded containers on the same corners.

The reasons offered are not unsound. At the corner in front of the Boulderado Hotel is a positive phalanx of ugly newspaper boxes. There is no place left between them, and they serve as an un-scaleable barrier to the street and from the street to the businesses on the other side. Those free magazines that are threatened with removal have screamed bloody murder, and not been hesitant to include The First Amendment in their offerings, suggesting that a populace denied their work is in threat of psychological syndrome incompatible with any country that the publishers would choose to live in.

The actual issues here are somewhat more complicated than the severely devious and often insane minds of publishers would have you believe. Nobody, despite all the circumstantial evidence and questionable data accumulation methods, has any idea how many people read or care about a free publication. There are reasonable inferences that can be made, but numbers of printed units, even if the publishers and printers tell the truth, is not one of them. First, is the stated number correct, and second, how does that mean the things are read, scanned or even noticed? If someone accepts the $.50 gouge to read a tear sheet like The Daily Camera, for instance, a reasonable assumption can be made that the paper was perused to some extent or other. In any case, someone has to pay for the increased litter.

To a degree, publishers of free papers do not care if they are read, because they make their money – if they’re not simply laundering past, undeclared earnings of themselves or someone else – from selling advertising and various partnerships, sometimes in show business. The advertisers simply need to see some result from their expense, which is often hard to pin down, and second best is seeing the advertising vehicle displayed lots of places. To the believing mind, this can be proof. Hence the assault of what publishers call newspaper stands but the rest of us call ugly, toneless wind chimes bouncing down the street if not attractively chained to light posts or weighted down with liquor bottles left by those who use the display window for expressive Art and the contents for toilet accessories.

Advertisers are not utter morons, of course, but they are subject to some deception. One of the most durable free publications is The Colorado Daily. These days, they run a self-congratulatory campaign of printing photographs of people reading their paper as contest winners with, I believe, a cash prize. It’s in our paper: proof positive people read it. Who would be swayed by this sort of thing, who would be convinced? Clearly, this is a concerned publisher worried about whether or not ads in the rag are any longer in the bag.

But to the point, is it fair that Westword can be offered and Bud’s Auto Shopper not, and should one publication that does world class investigative reporting be used as a cover for smarmy single’s guides or iffy real estate listings? I guess, it comes down to whether they have paid the license to distribute on public property, because you cannot define news and separate it from the big book of classified ads. Why? Because that would be a violation of the First Amendment, when government defines what is and what is not news or of public need to know. As annoying and hypocritical as many of the pleas from the excluded publishers are, I don’t see how they can legally be excluded with paid licenses.

The way around the congestion issue is to limit distribution boxes to dailies and weeklies and get rid of those with longer shelf lives.

The question is settled. Next case. God, I’m good……..