he Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people.
Postal Reorganization Act of 1970
“Bind the nation together.” At few points in American history has the need to fulfill this mission been as important as it is today.
While the internet age was supposed to be the great unifier of America, the medium through which we would all have a voice, and our many voices would increase understanding of our world, nation, state and community; it has often done the opposite.
It is ripping us apart. It is isolating us away from human contact, warmth, and understanding. It feeds us misinformation rather than enlightenment. We are a deeply fractured society filled with animosity toward those who don’t share our political, religious, or social beliefs.
As the most trusted news source, the local newspaper still plays a valuable role in uniting our communities in common purpose. We still play a vital role in informing our citizens of the actions of their local governments and leaders. We still print the stories that help us get to know one another. But these newspapers that provide so much to our communities are under attack.
Newspaper revenue has been devastated by the internet. The purchase of local businesses by regional and national chains with no ties to the community, know nothing of the value of the community newspaper, has contributed to their weakened financial state. In rural America, population loss has hurt main street and the newspaper business. With its free shipping and fast delivery, Amazon has undercut our local businesses.
But there is one other culprit undermining American democracy – the United States Postal Service under the leadership of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. His “Delivering For America” plan, with its twice-a-year postage increases, is contributing to even more publications to being added to the nearly 2,500 we’ve lost. Another round of punishing rate increases in coming.
“The proposed Jan. 21, 2024, postage increase for community newspapers is nearly four times the rate increase proposed for other users of the mail,” the National Newspaper Association says. It increases in-county mailing rates by 7.3% and is the fifth increase since 2021. As newspaper rates skyrocket, the price of a First-Class letter is going up 1.9%, with the stamp price going to 68 cents.
With the proposed rates, the cost of mailing a shopper is increasing by another 2.1% to 3.9%, depending upon mail density, NNA says.
These ever-higher rates have forced newspapers to shut down their shoppers, an important source of revenue that has helped them support their newspaper operations while giving advertisers a wider reach.
If DeJoy has a plan for killing America’s community newspapers, he is executing it and us with relentless vigor.
While the country’s Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) is responsible for reviewing proposed USPS rate increases for illegalities and calculation errors, it doesn’t have the power to stop the implementation of the rates.
“It certainly seems as if the Postal Service wants to discourage newspapers from using the mail,” National Newspaper Association Chair John Galer, publisher of The Journal-News in Hillsboro, Illinois, said. This dramatic rate increase for local newspapers was a shock, he said.
“At a time when local journalism is already in peril and more newspapers are using the mail to reach subscribers, this increase is simply punitive,” Galer said. “We expect both our subscribers and other stakeholders in our community to push back at the subscription increases that will be made necessary by the Postal Service’s action.”
USPS partially justifies its rate increase to policy coming from the PRC. That policy requires the labor and expense savings that newspapers have given the Postal Service through presorting their publications and, in some cases, transporting them to local post offices to cut delivery times.
“Traditionally, USPS has shared far less than 100 % of the savings when it passes along mail discounts. But because PRC is pushing the postal system to be more generous in sharing the savings, USPS is simply raising the basic rate to show a more acceptable discount,” Galer said.
“Raising our prices so it can claim it is creating a fair discount is the sort of math we associate with shady deals,” he said. “Our industry has been doing a lot of mail preparation work for years to help keep postal costs down. For us to now be punished for that work simply adds outrage to our disappointment.”
At the same time it is raising our rates relentlessly, USPS service gets continually worse. We hear story after story of people living 10 to 20 miles away from where their hometown newspaper is located, not getting their newspapers for three or four days after it is published and mailed. It’s our fault, they say, though we are powerless for Postal Service performance once our newspapers are dropped off.
DeJoy has let us know he doesn’t want us interfering with his plans for dismantling the Postal Service as we know it, and as the Founders of the country intended it to work. He knows little, if anything, about the value of a community newspaper. With no sense of their importance to an informed citizenry, one united with common knowledge to face a community’s challenges, he could care less about the consequences of his actions.
Slowing down mail delivery, cutting services, and increasing costs are DeJoy’s plan for improving the Postal Service. What he is doing is taking it towards a focus on package delivery and shell of its former self for rural America.
The USPS Board of Governors has the authority to fire DeJoy. We need to urge its members to replace DeJoy with someone who knows the value of community newspapers. Urge our members of Congress to support community newspapers through lower postal rates as the nation’s founders intended.