Free Newspapers: Clogging Subways, Spurring Competition, or Both?

Free newspapers, available throughout New York City and handed out in front of subway stations, are being blamed for clogging the city’s subways. This information has been reported in the several major New York newspapers that customers must pay for, i.e. the competitors of the freebies. According to an Oct. 27 op-ed in the New York Post:

“An investigation spearheaded by board member Barry Feinstein found that the free papers - amNew York and Metro - played a major role in the 2004 flood, prompted by a torrential storm, that crippled much of the subway system for hours.

The papers, designed to be read quickly and then thrown away, blow on the tracks and clog up drains - which is what happened in the flood.

An earlier MTA report found that added trash from the giveaways played a significant role in increased subway fires.”

According to an article in Editor and Publisher, the increase of free newspapers in the subways is causing concern:

“Another New York daily, The New York Sun, reported in February that the MTA collects 50 tons of garbage from its stations and tracks each day. In that report, the Sun quoted New York City Transit Authority spokesman Paul Fleuranges as saying the MTA is spending about $6.4 million more this year on cleaning stations and tracks.

The New York Post op-ed continues to say that the New York Post does not object to the existence of the free daily and weekly papers in the city. They object to the freebies sometimes being handed out illegally inside of the subways or left unattended. This increases the chances these papers will be thrown away and wind up clogging the tracks.

The paper isn’t pleased that the locations where their papers may be sold are restricted, the freebie papers appear to have free reign of locations. So how much of the op-ed was written in response to the feeling that their competitors are getting an unfair advantage? According to the op-ed:

“Let's be perfectly honest: The Post 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.

But the problem is that the publishers of the freebies don't obey the rules, and the NYPD refuses to enforce them - out of wholly unwarranted First Amendment concerns.”

In its defense, the Post op-ed did acknowledge that these freebies are competing with them over advertising dollars. Yet, I wonder if the major newspapers are actually concerned with subway problems and delays, or are actively seeking to damage their competitors. The story is definitely newsworthy. And I don’t have the answer.

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