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Mobtown Beat

Can't Stop, Won't Stop

Jefferson Jackson Steele
NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS: Some area residents are complaining about unwanted copies of the Examiner being dropped on their doorsteps.

By Laura Laing | Posted 9/27/2006

Joanne is royally pissed because the Examiners won't stop coming. Sometimes she gets two of the free newspapers each day. Sometimes, she says, the drain along Smith Avenue where she lives in Pikesville is full of the plastic-wrapped papers dropped off by carriers.

"I've called [The Examiner] since they started," she says, asking them to stop delivery, but the papers keep coming. She's called the customer-service line--at first four times a week, she says, now four times a day--often getting different operators who assure her that the delivery will stop. She found a 1-800 number on the delivery bag and called that. She's threatened a lawsuit. She's even pretended to cry. She's been so vocal about her frustrations with The Examiner that she doesn't want to reveal her last name.

"It's very frustrating," she says. "I'm asking them to stop. I would think that if you want someone to stop putting something on your house, they would have to stop."

Joanne's Pikesville neighborhood is not the only one where residents say they are inundated with unwanted newspapers: In Mount Washington, Examiner delivery practices were a frequent topic of conversation on the neighborhood's e-mail list server after the paper started publishing in Baltimore in April. According to several members of the list serv, calling the customer-service line to complain did not stop the papers from landing on their doorsteps. Mount Washington resident Wendy Olsson posted about the problem on the list serv on May 31, saying that she'd called the Examiner offices twice to ask them to stop delivery. "Both times they assured me they'd no longer deliver the paper and were very nice about it, but the papers are still coming," she wrote at the time.

Olsson tells a reporter that it took a call to the publisher of the paper, Michael Phelps, to stop delivery.

"The papers stopped arriving about a week or so later," she says. "We haven't received any Examiners for a while now."

Phelps and Examiner vice president of circulation Michael Barnum admit that stopping delivery of the paper can be a challenge.

"One of the most difficult things we encountered--and this has happened in San Francisco and D.C.--is getting stops stopped," Phelps says. (Baltimore is one of three cities in which The Examiner is published.) Part of the problem, he says, is carrier turnover; another is that some carriers are delivering the papers in the dark.

"It's a mistake," Barnum says. "It happens." He says that carriers are not supposed to deliver papers to houses where two days' worth of newspapers have not been picked up and brought inside. Phelps adds that carriers are supposed to pick up any old newspapers that may be lying in a customer's driveway or sidewalk.

"That's our policy," he says. "If they see the papers, they need to pick them up."

Joanne says that's not happening near her house, where she says she picks up about 20 to 30 unopened Examiners each week. Some Federal Hill residents have also had problems with unwanted deliveries--in some areas of the neighborhood, handmade signs reading the examiner: don't deliver here are posted on doors.

"Seems like it's effective," says Keith Losoya, former president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association (Losoya is running as a Republican against incumbent George Della in the 46th District state Senate race). "People were frustrated [with the delivery]. . . . People who were going out of town, they're worried. It's a sign that no one is home [when newspapers pile up]."

The Examiner also has initiated its own solution to the problem. Barnum says that residents can request red or green dots that can be placed on mailboxes to let carriers know whether or not to deliver to their house. Barnum says the dots are reflective so carriers can see them in the dark.

"If people want green or red dots, we want to get them to them," Phelps says.

Still, some area residents want to make a bolder statement. Paul Speert of Reisterstown, who owns SAS Promotions, calls the paper's delivery system a "blatantly obscene marketing effort" and says that papers keep "piling up by my mailbox, front steps, and in the road." He reached his breaking point with the paper last week, he says, when his daughter slipped and fell on a wet plastic-wrapped paper on her way to the school bus. So he created 14-by-22 inch blue-and-white yard signs that read no examiner: do not deliver here. He is handing them out free to anyone who wants them.

"Had it just been me, it would have been one thing," Speert says. "But everyone is fed up." Joanne, who was interviewed earlier in this story, is an employee at SAS Promotions.

Barnum says the paper is working on a new GPS system that will help carriers honor stop-delivery requests, but right now the paper is "working with the software vendor." In the meantime, he says, frustrated readers can call his assistant to have delivery stopped. At the moment, he says, The Examiner is working on six or seven stop-delivery requests.

But Phelps notes that the paper has to first honor its responsibility to its readers. "Our first priority is to get [the paper] to everyone who wants to get it," he says.

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