NNA gains hub use instruction to help area newspaper delivery within closed SCFs
March 5, 2014
The National Newspaper Association gained official policy last month for a long-sought practice to keep local and area newspapers within their former Sectional Center Facilities, now designated as “Hubs” in postal vernacular.
With hundreds of small SCFs merged into larger postal processing plants, and mail sortation of “working mail” moved further “upstream,” NNA’s Postal Committee had been promised since March 2011 that those “losing SCFs” would keep direct containers “dock-transferred” within the old SCF territory.
Despite those promises, no clear directive was issued to “the field” until Feb. 6, and then only after a visit by NNA leadership with U.S. Postal Service management in Washington last July. Merle Baranczyk, then NNA president, and Robert M. Williams Jr., current NNA president, beseeched Postmaster General Pat Donahoe and USPS Chief Operating Officer Megan Brennan to take steps to keep newspaper delivery service within standards set for all Periodicals. Issuance of the Hub policy was a key part of that.
NNA pushed behind the scenes with other USPS operational personnel to get the policy drafted and issued. Tonda Rush, NNA chief executive officer, prodded at every opportunity until “the policy ground through the giant USPS bureaucracy and came out satisfactorily in the end, three years after we were first assured it would be implemented.”
Such is life in working with USPS. But NNA persists on behalf of its members, and does the best it can to help newspapers survive and thrive in what continues to be a difficult economy. Better late than never, except that some newspapers have undoubtedly lost subscribers because of delivery delays in the meantime.
I say some, because common-sense, customer-oriented plant managers in “gaining plants” that got the mail transferred from “losing plants” had seen to it that the Hub policy was in fact followed. Others did not.
WHAT DOES THE HUB
POLICY DO, EXACTLY?
Good question. I’d like to expand on what the NNA news release last month correctly stated, and quote from the actual policy letter to Area Vice-Presidents from David Williams, vice president network operations, and Ed Phelan, vice president delivery and post office operations.
The policy on “Local Newspaper Processing” says that direct containers of newspapers are sometimes “being transported upstream to the processing center even though they are already at their finest depth of sort. Transporting these containers of 5-digit direct local newspapers to the upstream processing center only to have the processing center dispatch them back to AOs (associate offices—post offices) results in unnecessary transportation and handling costs and can lead to service delays.”
The policy orders an end to this practice by ensuring that mail entered at a delivery post office in 5-digit containers or better sort (carrier-route, high-density, etc.) stays there. Likewise, and most importantly, it directs that all other such containers stay in Hubs (mostly former SCFs) and get redistributed to other post offices within the service territory of that Hub.
Direct containers include 5-Digit, Carrier-Route, or M5D (merged 5-digit and carrier-route in same sack or tray).
Even though mail sortation is no longer done in the Hubs, USPS still has a highway-contract network to move mail from its post offices to the distant plant, and the network is still mostly built around the former SCFs as a “transfer hub” operation. It is that network that moves mail to post offices in the morning and back to the hubs, then on to plants, in the evening.
WHAT DOES THE HUB POLICY NOT DO?
It does not keep in Hubs the processing of “working” containers that must be opened and sorted, including 3-digit, SCF, and higher-level sorts. Because all processing of working mail has been moved upstream to more distant plants from smaller SCFs, copies for post offices within the former SCF territory that didn’t sort to direct containers will escape to working sortations.
NNA members may get a copy of the letter for their own use in sharing within their state or region at www.nnaweb.org. Click on the story about USPS telling its post offices to hold local newspaper mail. The link is at the bottom of the story.
HOW CAN I MAXIMIZE COPIES
IN DIRECT SORTS?
There are several options to get copies out of working containers and into direct containers. First, look at the ZIP code of addresses in those working containers, primarily 3-digit or SCF. If you see copies for ZIPs without your former SCF, you may be able to take one of several steps.
If the address didn’t sort to a 9-digit ZIP code, it probably has a slight defect in the address line. Check it via the USPS.com ZIP Code Lookup, or even Whitepages.com. You may be able to make slight changes to get the address codable, and put it back into a 5-digit sortation.
Secondly, if you see multiple copies in the working sort with proper 9-digit ZIP codes, it may be that you don’t have 24 or more copies, the minimum standard requirement to make up a direct container. See if your software will allow an override to allow you to create flats trays or sacks below 24 copies. Most post offices have no problem with it, and often postmasters or clerks advise it to get better service and get subscribers who complain to them off their backs.
Someone out there among the Pub Aux readership may have other ideas. If so, share them with me at the e-mail address below. And as always, if you have questions, feel free to direct those to me as well. © Max Heath 2014
Max Heath, NNA postal chair, is a postal consultant for Athlon Media, publisher of Athlon Sports magazine, American Profile, Relish, and Spry newspaper supplements, and Landmark Community Newspapers Inc. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.