Friday, October 27, 2006

Free papers blamed for subway flooding

The concept of free daily newspapers is under attack in New York by the government agency that runs the subways and the paid newspapers that are losing circulation to the freebies. The controversy dates back to Sept. 8, 2004 when the Metropolitan Transit Authority's subways flooded during a torrential storm. The MTA's inspector general issued a report blaming the MTA for "historic neglect" of valves that would have cleared the water away. But MTA's management refused to accept the blame and instead said flooding was the fault of free newspaper publishers, who have hawkers who distribute the papers on subway platforms. As the Gothamist put it, "It's awesomely convenient how the MTA board finds the time and money to conduct another report to say it wasn't the MTA's fault -- it was the free newspapers."

It didn't take long for the paid newspapers to chime in, such as the New York Post, which suggests that the police ought to be used to control free newspaper hawkers. Some excerpts:
    "Next time your subway line is shut down because of massive flooding, or you're stuck on a train in a dark tunnel for an hour or more because there's a fire on the tracks, you'll know who to blame." ...

    "The publishers of the freebies don't obey the rules, and the NYPD refuses to enforce them - out of wholly unwarranted First Amendment concerns. The freebie hawkers can legally give out their copies, provided they remain outside the subway stations and don't leave piles of papers unattended. But aggressive hawkers flagrantly break those rules: They go down into the stations by the turnstiles, or even onto the platforms."
At least the Post admits that it is not a "disinterested party in this affair. The free papers, after all, compete for readers and advertisers with the one you're reading right now." And that admission explains the purpose of the editorial.