Cost of Doing Business
Buzz is a little late getting to the party with this, but it behooves us to say something about the city's plans to tighten regulations and raise the fees for newspaper racks on city right-of-way—including the Dallas Observer's. Ahem...here goes:
It's an outrage, an assault on our precious First Amendment-guaranteed freedoms, tantamount to spitting on the flag-draped coffins of our brave young men and women who have died in the bloody sands of Iraq, an underhanded assault on those of us who toil weekly to shine the holy light of truth on the nefarious workings of The High and Mighty.
So there. Now that Buzz has acknowledged that we know upon which side our bread is buttered, let's hope our bosses have stopped reading so we can tell you what we really think: big whoop. Scheduled for a vote on Valentine's Day, the revised ordinance would regulate the number, size and color of boxes on sidewalks, rid the city of those crappy, flyaway plastic racks and increase the fee for each box from $5 to $15. That's a pretty stiff increase for this paper, which has around 600 boxes on city right-of-way, but we can't argue with a straight face that the fee seems exorbitant. If thirsty, homeless bums can't legally stand on street corners and panhandle to make a living, why should newspaper folk—who differ from bums chiefly in that they have homes—get a free pass? Frankly, some of the 3,000 or so racks on the sidewalks do tend to muck up the streets—other papers', not ours.
The big question is whether the city can fairly enforce the new ordinance, which, given the city's track record on code enforcement and nuisance laws, seems a wee bit doubtful. In 2004, The Dallas Morning News surveyed boxes downtown to see how many were complying with the current ordinance. The biggest offenders? Publications owned by The Dallas Morning News. The Dallas Observer was in compliance. Hah.
The tougher ordinance is going to be an even bigger headache to enforce, partly because the papers that compete for prime space can get kind of vicious—vandalizing, moving or stealing competitors' boxes. Not us, of course. No way. "It's a war out there," our circulation director tells us. And now the city wants to regulate the battle. Maybe they'll add a surge of code enforcers or enlist newsprint militias to self-regulate. Yeah, that should work... —Patrick Williams
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