Friday, September 14

Goliath throws its weight

The draft of the newsrack ordinance detailed below will no longer get a first reading at Fort Collins City Council's regular meeting on Tuesday as originally planned. Why? Here's the email sent by the city's communications and public involvement director Kelly Dimartino:

Media representatives:

As you know, we were scheduled to discuss a proposed newsrack
ordinance at the September 18 City Council meeting. Earlier this
week, the Coloradoan, with support from The Loveland Daily Reporter-
Herald and USA Today, submitted an official request to postpone the
newsrack ordinance discussion. As part of this request, they have
committed to seek an alternate solution in a timely manner (the
next few weeks). As a result, we have pulled the discussion about
the proposed ordinance from the September 18 City Council agenda.
I anticipate that the proposed newsrack ordinance, or an alternate
proposal relating to newsrack management, will come before Council
within the next two to three months, with a considerable amount of
work in the interim.

Please let me know if you have any questions.


Who knew you could postpone a reading of an ordinance with a "formal request"? And what does the Coloradoan have up its sleeve?

I met with Dimartino this morning and she said the Goliath has objections to the proposed ordinance. (What publisher doesn't?) Coloradoan President and Publisher Christine Chin, along with a lawyer representing the daily paper, met with the city and proposed ditching the ordinance in favor of a contract with the city. After witnessing Gannett attempt to control the condos in other cities, thereby controlling their competitors distribution, I caught a whiff Gannett forcing its will on the city and competitors in a similar way with this "contract."

Dimartino says the Coloradoan did propose a partnership with the city five years ago to install condos, but the city had no interest in entering into any partnership with the paper then, now or ever. But she also says she has little idea what the Coloradoan is proposing, other than that it will be an alternative solution to the newsrack "problems" the proposed ordinance intends to address. She thinks it will be a contract between the city and each publication.

She gave Chin the contact list of publishers that need to be notified for inclusion in discussions about the alternative solution, saying that it must be agreed upon by all, not just the goliath. Chronicle was on that list, but only found out about the September 19 publishers' pow-wow when Fort Collins NOW publisher Joel Dyer called us. Apparently, the Coloradoan is not interested in ensuring all voices are heard on this matter.

This pow-wow, to my knowledge, is the first time that the Goliath has sat down with a group of other Northern Colorado publishers, and it should be interesting. My hope is that it is truly a discussion and not a heavy-handed appeal for support for whatever alternative the Coloradoan sees fit. We have our ideas for an alternative (enforce the policy we have!), and it will be voiced. Otherwise, we'll file a formal request and expect to be given the same considerations as the Goliath.

This may all sound like behind-the-scenes industry chatter that bears little significance to readers, but remember, this is deciding the media landscape of Fort Collins.

UPDATE: It is worth noting that we received a message from Christine Chin this morning (Monday) apologizing if we felt slighted by the Coloradoan not calling to invite us personally to the meeting. Apparently, her and Joel Dyer divided up the list of publishers that needed to be contacted.

And we also received a copy of the formal request for postponement that the Coloradoan sent the city, which we were CCed on. Some highlights:

"There are ways to address the City's concerns related to newsracks without touching on serious legal issues that the proposed ordinance may raise."

"In order to develop a worthwhile proposal, and the necessary consensus within the publishing community around such a proposal, we need the oppurtunity that a short delay on the proposed ordinance would provide."

It also says that publishers can create an alternate plan that would address the city's concerns "but also avoids putting the City in the difficult business of regulating the exercise of First Amendment rights."

Serious legal issues? First Amendment rights? Consensus?!

While still skeptical, I must admit that the Coloradoan is being inclusive, and there's nothing in the letter I don't agree with.


Anonymous said...

here they are trying to protect your first amendment rights and you rip them.

Anonymous said...

Believe us, anonymous, those papers are not trying to protect the First Amendment rights of the locally owned publications. We've been through hell here in Mississippi as Gannett tried to take over our distribution channels. Y'all need to get in front of this out there and educate the public about what they're up to. Good luck!

Just put the words "Gannett" and "distribution" into Google, and you'll start to get the real picture.

Donna Ladd
Editor-in-Chief, Jackson Free Press

vanessa said...

Donna is absolutely right, and the health, perhaps even survival, of the Chronicle is at stake.

One reader we hadn't met yet stopped at the office yesterday to say he's willing to speak on behalf of the indies at council meetings. others expressed concerns to us yesterday at the Sustainable Living Fair. We'll be there again today from 10am to 6pm, so stop by and see us.

If you cannot but want to join us in the very probable struggle for free distribution, email