A lively conversation blew through the Ypsilanti, Michigan message boards this week, like discarded coupons churning in the wind. Residents are tired of finding local news site AnnArbor.com's weekly add papers strewn about their property. Rather than just complain, they've taken to SeeClickFix to exchange information and find a solution.
It's proven surprisingly difficult for neighbors to get the news company to stop tossing the so-called "trash packets" on their lawns, even after notifying customer service. Delivery of free papers is protected by the first amendment, a reality which has left at least one neighbor asking, "is AnnArbor.com asserting that their first amendment rights trump our property rights?" And should newspapers composed of 85% advertisements be protected by the 1st amendment to begin with?
The thread was started three months ago by neighborhood activist and blogger Kurt Anschuetz, who complained that the automatically delivered papers are getting caught in a neighbor's snow blower. "Not only are these papers a waste of resources, they create a mess, and they let thieves know when people are not around to pick them up" Anschuetz wrote.
Other neighbors seconded his opinion. Christina wrote,
Aside from making our neighborhood look like a plastic bag/paper dump, another thing that irritates me about this issue is that we subscribe to the Sunday paper and still receive the free Community News. What a waste of paper and plastic.
Chris also emphasized the wastefulness: "When I go running in the neighborhood, especially in the winter, I see hundreds of their unsolicited papers rotting in driveways, yards, sidewalks, even streets. It's a shame they can't be fined for littering, as they should be."
Not long after the initial posts, an AnnArbor.com blogger posted that the website is happy to take houses off their routes if neighbors call in to make that request. But according to the comments from other neighbors, it's easier said than done. Several neighbors reported that they found the paper on their lawns or in their driveways even after calling to opt-out of the free delivery.
Anschuetz wrote that he learned in conversations with attorneys that "anyone can throw anything on the lawns as long as there is 15% 'news'" content. The other 85% can be adds. Neighbors began plotting demonstrations involving dumping their reserves of coupons on the grounds of AnnArbor.com's headquarters.
But there were eventual signs of hope. One neighbor posted an article from Louisville, where the city had voted to ban such publications from being disseminated. A second neighbor posted a letter from AnnArbor.com, apologizing for their delay in discontinuing the delivery and promising to cancel all deliveries in the areas were neighbors had complained.
A final neighbor followed up to say that he had gone a full weekend without getting a single paper.
It's unclear whether the newspaper will keep its promise and permanently cease its delivery to the homes of disgruntled neighbors. But it was interesting to see the way that neighbors took ownership of SeeClickFix to disseminate information, post their success stories, and even debate constitutional amendments.
Thank you to Ypsilanti's neighborhood activists, who are helping prove that online message boards can be much more than a place to vent anonymously!