The Message

Free for All

When longtime newspaperman Randy Miller took over the Colorado Daily in 2001, the venerable Boulder publication was in shaky financial shape -- but what a difference four years make. Today's Daily is a much more mainstream paper than it was during its radical '70s and '80s heyday, and a more profitable one as well, with a page count roughly double the average it was when Miller came aboard, a state-of-the-art headquarters, and a new Sunday edition that, for its March 6 debut, was delivered to all 24,000 single-family homes in Boulder.

The move to Sunday seems like a direct attack on the Boulder Daily Camera, which has dominated the home-delivery game in the city for decades and has deep pockets, thanks to its parent company, E.W. Scripps. (It's a sister paper of the Rocky Mountain News.) While Miller doesn't confirm that a battle is under way -- "We're just trying to grow our newspaper," he says -- Camera publisher Greg Anderson feels otherwise. "There's been a newspaper war in Boulder since he bought the paper," Anderson asserts. "And I think he intends to do some damage."

That's a reasonable guess -- and since free home delivery is among the hottest trends in newspapering these days, Miller's risky move has a reasonable chance to pay off. Still, at least a handful of Boulderites would rather not get something for nothing. "This kind of unsolicited delivery creates a real littering problem on our properties," declares Sheila Horton, executive director of the Boulder County Rental Housing Association. "Because no one has subscribed to this paper, no one feels a responsibility to pick it up."

Homeowner Peter Richards agrees. "We have people subscribing to newspapers -- the Post, the News, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times -- who don't even pick up ones they paid for," he says. "So if Randy's delivering newspapers no one asked for, you know they're not going to pick those up." The result, in Richards's view, is unsightly and potentially dangerous, since newspapers left in front of a property might attract thieves targeting the homes of vacationers.

With more free newspapers hitting driveways (for instance, the Denver Post did a big drop on University Hill last weekend), such gripes are on the rise, and not only in Boulder. A January New York Times article spotlighted similar criticism about a Denver Newspaper Agency program in which copies of the local dailies paid for by advertisers are delivered gratis to non-subscribing homeowners in high-income demographic areas. The DNA argues that such papers are valued by those who receive them, but industry experts aren't so sure. A Prudential Equity Group report cited by the trade magazine Editor & Publisher defines "copies not paid for by the individual recipient" as "low-quality circulation" because "the reader is most likely less engaged in the newspaper." The same analysis placed the Post alongside the Boston Globe at the bottom of its nationwide quality-circulation ranking, with the Rocky Mountain News only one rung higher.

Meanwhile, according to the Washington City Paper, a Washington, D.C., area resident fed up with receiving copies of the Washington Examiner, a free daily funded by Denver mogul Phil Anschutz, managed to stop delivery only by complaining to his county's board. After his objections were publicized, more than a dozen other residents chimed in.

No such parade has marched into the City of Boulder's offices to date. Public-information coordinator Jodie Carrollsays officials would prefer to let the Daily attempt to address problems before taking any other action, and her stance makes sense. After all, Boulder's littering ordinance was written in the early '80s, long before anyone contemplated free newspaper home delivery; its First Amendment clause was intended to apply primarily to "people who were hand-carrying things or hanging them on your doorknob," says Boulder assistant city attorney Walt Fricke. As a result, Fricke believes that "we don't have an appropriate tool" to deal with this particular situation.

Miller says rewriting the law won't be necessary. He boasts about his strong commitment to the environment, emphasizing that he prints the Daily entirely on recycled newsprint. Besides, he notes that "only three people have complained to us in a city of 100,000, and I got many more compliments." Nevertheless, he's working with the forty or so new part-timers in his circulation squad to correct any errors they've made to date, and promises to maintain a strict no-deliver list.

Keeping this pledge won't be easy, the Camera's Anderson suspects. "I have 1,200 addresses that say 'Do not deliver,'" he says. "And when you're going out and hiring people to work once a week, there'll be a lot of turnover. They're going to have a headache."

Anderson likes the idea of giving migraines to Daily staffers. Last year the Camera introduced Dirt, a five-day-a-week free publication aimed squarely at the Daily's audience, and Anderson says that upon learning about it, Miller suggested that the two papers partner on the project. When this offer was rejected, Anderson goes on, "He told me, 'We're going to do something to hurt the Camera'" -- and he thinks the Sunday Daily was the result.

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