Protect your access to information | In Our Opinion

Imagine a world without newspapers, where there’s no coverage of local government, no human interest stories to enliven and give texture to communities, no stories about local sports teams and none of the daily entertainment features subscribers have come to love. Newspapers, incidentally, that can be counted on to feed the Internet with journalism that is ethical, vetted and verified.

Sound unlikely? Not really, thanks to a discriminatory action by the federal Postal Regulatory Commission to give a grossly unfair rate advantage to a giant direct-mail firm.

Valassis Communications Inc. received this incredible largesse from the federal government. Under a sweetheart deal given in the hopes of generating more revenue for a cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service, Valassis will get postal rate reductions of from 22 to 36 percent for mailers advertising national retailers of durable and semi-durable goods.

What this means is that these retailers — whose eye is understandably on the bottom line in this shaky economy — may pull advertising inserts from newspapers in favor of Valassis’ direct mail, and take ad revenues along with them.

The Postal Service has long faced hemorrhaging of its revenues. The situation has worsened as people email instead of writing letters and increasingly pay their bills online.

Now, as its financial tipping point looms, the government’s mail monopoly is sharing its pain with the newspaper industry and its customers, rather than doing what it should have done years ago — cutting expenses and reforming its pension system.

Advertising is the life blood of newspapers. Single-copy sales account for only a small portion of a newspaper’s income. Regardless of how readers feel about ads, without them newspapers could not be financially viable.

But should this revenue be lured away, publishers nationwide would have no choice but to cut their staffs, throwing thousands out of work, diminishing the breadth of news coverage and weakening the beneficial influence a free press has historically had in keeping the American people informed and safeguarding their freedoms.

Thomas Jefferson expressed aptly and succinctly the need to protect newspapers when he said, “The only security of all is in a free press.”

Because it is a government-run monopoly, the USPS belongs to the American people and should serve them impartially. It should treat all its customers fairly, and not give one customer a huge advantage over another. The Postal Service’s job is to deliver mail, not make game-changing decisions about which businesses thrive and which don’t. And when the businesses harmed by the Postal Regulatory Commission’s alarming decision are those defending the American public’s crucial right to know, the damage is doubled.

Several Congressional leaders, recognizing the harm this decision could mean for newspapers in their districts, want to overturn the Valassis deal. For the sake of a free and viable press, we hope they succeed.

We urge our readers to write their representatives in Washington to protest the Postal Service’s unjustified and unprecedented intervention in the marketplace and to urge its repeal:

— Sen. Maria Cantwell, 950 Pacific Ave. , Suite 615, Tacoma, WA. 98402, www.cantwell.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/email-maria.
— Sen. Patty Murray, 2988 Jackson Federal Building, 915 2nd Ave., Seattle, WA 98174, www.murray.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contactme.


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