Newspaper Subscribers May Be the Unseen Victims in USPS Plant Closings

October 9, 2014

The U.S. Postal Service should evaluate the impact of slower service to newspaper subscribers before proceeding with 2015 closings of mail processing plants, National Newspaper Association President John Edgecombe Jr., said this week. Edgecombe is the publisher of The Nebraska Signal in Geneva, NE.

NNA seconded the concern expressed by the USPS Office of the Inspector General that the Postal Service has not completed service impact evaluations on the planned closings of 82 more mail processing plants starting in January 2015. The evaluations should include public notice and comment. The OIG strongly recommended that USPS complete these evaluations and requested confirmation that they are being completed.

NNA has previously reminded the Postal Service that the impact of moving mail processing operations into urban areas creates mail delivery problems for its subscribers, who may judge the effectiveness of the mail by the on-time arrival of their newspapers.

“As I look at the list of plants on the closing list and see cities like Salina, Kansas; Grand Island, Nebraska; Eureka, California, and Elko, Nevada, I worry that small-town America is gradually losing reliable mail service,” Edgecombe said. “Affordable, dependable service links us to our subscribers. More importantly, it is the bedrock of local small-town economies. It is essential that USPS understand and grapple with these impacts before it makes a decision to close any mail sorting plant.”

NNA Postal Committee Chair Max Heath in Shelbyville, KY, said a particular problem is that USPS has no universal system for measuring newspaper on-time delivery. Even with strong impact studies, it may not always capture the full effect of slower newspaper delivery, he said.

“USPS rests its service studies upon electronic scanning equipment on its automated mail sorters. But many newspapers are not sorted on these machines. So our mail drops out of the visibility measurements that USPS depends upon to report its success in reaching delivery times. Certainly we are concerned whether a plant closing creates a slower standard. We are equally concerned that if newspapers are not delivered on time with today’s delivery standards, USPS has no systematic way of detecting it.”

Newspapers are gradually adopting the Full Service Intelligent Mail barcodes that could be scanned by the sorting equipment. But unless the machines are used to sort the newspaper mail, usable information will still elude the Postal Service, he said.

“We are working diligently with USPS to develop a better measurement system,” Heath said. “But adoption of a better system for us is months, if not years away. What is important now is for USPS and publishers to recognize that newspaper subscribers want their issues on time, and any changes in service standards or actual service that puts their trust in jeopardy is bad for newspapers and for the Postal Service.”

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