By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Proliferation of free papers inspires Maryland Do Not Deliver legislation
Placeholder Image
    ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Connie Finch doesn’t read a newspaper, but she picks up plenty each morning. At least one free newspaper is dropped at the end of her driveway each day, and she picks up more newspapers left by her neighbors.
    All of them end up in the garbage.
    ‘‘We’re not asking for it,’’ Finch said. ‘‘And it’s just littering our streets.’’
    Complaints from the Westminster resident Finch and others about free home-delivery newspapers in Maryland have inspired State Del. Tanya Shewell to propose a ‘‘Do Not Deliver’’ registry that would work similarly to the ‘‘Do Not Call’’ registry for telemarketers. If approved, would be the first of its kind in the nation.
    Shewell said her constituents complain that they’re just ignored when they call a newspaper asking that delivery be stopped. She said people can’t stop deliveries even when they leave town, meaning papers are left around as an invitation to burglars. The newspapers often litter roadsides and storm drains.
    ‘‘I love free newspapers. We’re not trying to hurt the business of the newspapers,’’ Shewell said. ‘‘All we’re asking is for them to stop delivering to people who ask them to stop. People don’t know where to call. They don’t know how to stop it.’’
    The complaints started soon after the 2006 launch of The Baltimore Examiner, a free paper which delivers about 230,000 of its total 250,000 circulation to Maryland homes six days a week, making it the state’s largest daily.
    ‘‘I started getting calls from people who called numerous times and were promised it would stop, and it didn’t,’’ Shewell said. ‘‘They’re trashing up our community.’’
    Examiner representatives did not respond to several messages seeking comment.
    However, the head of the Examiner’s parent group said in Friday’s edition of the newspaper that he is concerned about the complaints.
    ‘‘My desire for the newspaper to not go to those who don’t want it far exceeds their desire to stop getting it. ... I hate it when we annoy readers, and keeping that annoyance to a minimum is among my highest priorities,’’ said Michael Phelps, CEO of Clarity Media Group’s Baltimore-Washington Examiner Newspaper Group.
    The newspaper industry is fighting the proposed registry, saying it isn’t needed.
    ‘‘Nobody wants to send out papers that are wasted, that people just throw away,’’ said Jack Murphy, executive director of the Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association.
    Shewell’s bill would give newspaper publishers seven days to comply with a request to stop an unsolicited home delivery. If the deliveries continue, publishers could be fined $100 a day. It would also require free newspapers to print a toll-free phone number in a conspicuous location for people who would want delivery stopped.
    Shewell’s bill is likely to run into opposition from lawmakers in both parties who worry it could violate constitutional free speech protections.
    ‘‘I like information,’’ said state Sen. Catherine Pugh. ‘‘If people are out of town, they can make arrangements for people to pick up materials in their yards. I just don’t think government needs to do everything. We can take some responsibility for our own lives.’’
    The bill could prove a legal morass, said T. Barton Carter, a media law expert at Boston University. It’s uncertain how valuable a ‘‘Do Not Call’’ analogy is, he said.
    ‘‘Usually, when you’re talking about print media and just delivering it to the outside, that’s not seen as intrusive as calls. So, it’s not clear it would survive a similar First Amendment analysis,’’ Carter said.
    If the law banned newspaper deliveries, it would also likely have to set up a ‘‘Do Not Deliver’’ registry for pizza delivery ads and other flyers routinely delivered to homes, Carter said.
    ‘‘I know of all kinds of flyers for services, so would you be eliminating all of those? If you aren’t, now you have a real problem in that you’re singling out a certain type of distribution,’’ said Carter.
    George Wilbanks, publisher of the East County Times in Baltimore County, is among the opponents of Shewell’s bill. His weekly newspaper has a circulation of 45,000, half of which are delivered to homes.
    Wilbanks said newspapers already try to avoid sending papers to people who don’t read them.
    ‘‘If a person calls to us and says, ’We don’t want your cotton-pickin’ paper,’ we don’t want to be sending it to them anyway,’’ Wilbanks said.
    Most people do want the papers, Murphy said.
    ‘‘Free newspapers in this state are very well read. And many, many people love them and read them every day,’’ he said.
    Finch, the frustrated Westminster homeowner, insists something should be done to stop newspaper deliveries people don’t want. She said many of her neighbors put signs in their yards asking that papers not be delivered — but the signs don’t work.
    ‘‘They literally throw the newspaper at the signs, so there’s blatant disregard for what their wants and desires are,’’ Finch said.
    ‘‘If we wanted to subscribe to one, we would,’’ Finch said.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter