Protect freedom of speech

The Brooklyn Paper
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David Yassky has some nerve. As politicians, Yassky and his comrades like to control their image. But in a pathetic attempt to keep their halos unsullied, local pols are continuing to hinder the free distribution of newspapers.

The latest example came this week, when Yassky, the Brooklyn Heights Councilman, set aside a page on his official Web site to invite the public to complain about “dangerous eyesore” newsboxes.

“Eyesores”? In some cases, arguably yes. But “dangerous”? Certainly not as dangerous as the city’s ongoing harassment of newspaper publishers — whose only “crime” is their effort to inform the public of the very news Yassky often claims is so vital.

This might be logical only in a city where the extent to which low-level pols inform the public consists of taxpayer-financed trash cans that gratuitously bear their names, and the self-serving newsletters they send out on our dime.

The stated goal of the politicians and the effete, ivory tower “planners” is to remake the city’s traditionally pulsating and diverse streetscape in the image of a sanitized, Jetsons-esque metropolis. Collateral damage from this asault on our public space is a stranglehold on the traditional media — a news format that, perhaps you’ve heard, is being clobbered by the Internet (where there is little of the original, hard-hitting reporting that might make those in power at least a little bit uncomfortable).

Thanks to homogenization-supporting activists like Yassky and the Municipal Art Society, newsbox rules make it harder for the public to get its information.

For example, newsboxes must be five feet from a driveway, 15 feet from fire hydrants, two feet of any curb cut, 15 feet from a subway entrance or exit and 15 feet from a newsstand, and leave eight feet of “unobstructed” sidewalk — it makes you wonder where you can legaly put a newsbox!

And last year, the city passed a law to allow building owners to bar “unsolicited material” from reaching their tenants. That bill’s stated goal was to block menus, but the result greatly curtailed newspaper distribution. Not everyone can afford to spend $10.60 every week to have the New York Times dropped on his doorstep or purchase an expensive device to allow him to access the award-winning Brooklyn Paper Web site.

In addition, the city prevents newspaper publishers from distributing inside public housing projects — a form of censorship that deprives some of the poorest members of our society access to free, unbiased coverage of the politicians who hold their lives in their very hands.

It’s time for the politicians to stop cracking down on newspapers and crack down on the real villains here: the miscreants and grafitti “artists” who deface the newsboxes in the first place.

c_ The Brooklyn Paper currently does not have newsboxes on any street.

Updated 5:11 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Alan from Bay Ridge says:
"Harassment"? "Stranglehold"? "Deprives some of the poorest members"?
Oh, STOP already. I'm a media-and-newspaper junkie, and I agree w/Yassky.

(1) It's disingenuous to frame this as a press-freedom issue: The boxes ARE eyesores.
Graffitti and garbage are inevitable in NYC. But if you put a newsbox on the street for your own financial/p.r. benefit, you should check on and maintain the thing - not trust that your distributors are taking care of it, or let it become a perma-blight.
-- Too many of these things are dirty, battered, and askew, with only a few copies of an ancient paper, if that: I regularly pass boxes that have had NO actual papers in them for months. It's as if their real purpose is to permanently flash the paper's name, not to distribute information.
-- A lot of these boxes have zero to do with news: They contain flyers and p.r. for particular businesses, or 100%-advertising "shopper" rags. It's sidewalk junkmail/blight protected by free speech.
-- It's not just a graffitti problem. When boxes are unused, neglected and empty, people jam them with junk flyers or garbage. This trash is on display forever - gradually deteriorating, like some ecology display - since the boxes have glass windows and are never cleaned out.
-- Since, unlike News/Times boxes, the free-paper boxes aren't maintained regularly: Some of them rot to a point where you don't want to go NEAR the box, even if it has a paper in it.

(2) At least the politicians' "self-serving" trashcans serve a practical purpose, get emptied regularly - and aren't likely to disappear (as trashcans increasingly are), leaving us with noplace to dump our street-food debris.

(3) Things dumped in lobbies often become garbage. That's especially so when a distributor heaves papers onto floors, inside steps and walkways ... in which case supers or bldg managers often take pre-emptive action and junk the stuff immediately.
So getting a paper into a building isn't necessarily a victory.

(4) People DO get out: Few are trapped in their buildings (including city housing) 24/7, breathlessly awaiting weekly delivery of a free newspaper.
If you want visibility, push distribution in bodegas, banks, coffee shops, diners, convenience stores, and in your advertisers' businesses.
Those are virtually the ONLY places that I've been able to find a current issue of any free paper - even when the street was full of newsboxes.
Feb. 20, 2009, 12:45 pm
ronz from Downtown says:
'newsboxes must be five feet from a driveway, 15 feet from fire hydrants, two feet of any curb cut, 15 feet from a subway entrance or exit and 15 feet from a newsstand, and leave eight feet of “unobstructed” sidewalk '

That sounds picky, but there are *so many* of these boxes! Without those rules, sidewalks would be impassable, or we'd have street-long curb-walls of strung-out multiple boxes, meters, pumps, street signs, trashcans, bus stops, benches, and trees [as applicable].

I also don't use free-newspaper boxes. Lots of the time, the papers are 'way outdated, or -- yes! -- you don't want to open the boxes, since they're grungy or have old papers mixed with garbage, or just garbage.
Feb. 23, 2009, 6:01 am

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