City of Tacoma, News Tribune address advertising circular controversy

Staff writerFebruary 23, 2014 

Tacoma City Manager T.C. Broadnax has issued a memo to the City Council saying he had a “very productive conversation” about advertising circulars with David Zeeck, publisher of The News Tribune.

In recent weeks, council members have received complaints about orange plastic bags containing advertising that The News Tribune delivered to neighborhoods throughout Tacoma. Some have said the bags are left in the street, sidewalk or gutter, where rain and traffic combine to turn the advertising product into a mushy mess.

Strategy discussed during the meeting, Broadnax’s Thursday memo states, “clearly demonstrates (The News Tribune’s) willingness to work with the city and residents to address the many concerns that have been expressed.”

During its Feb. 11 meeting, the council unanimously approved a resolution mandating that Broadnax meet with “leadership at The News Tribune.”

Many of the changes discussed during the meeting were already underway before he met with Broadnax, Zeeck said Saturday. Included in the memo are measures Zeeck said The News Tribune has already taken or will take to improve delivery and make it easier for residents to opt out of the advertising, which is sent to nonsubscribers.

Tacoma City Councilman Ryan Mello, who authored the initial resolution asking Broadnax to meet with TNT leadership, said he would like to give The News Tribune “the benefit of the doubt to see if they can truly make the practices better.”

Many neighborhoods originally received the advertising circulars through the mail. The News Tribune then switched some areas to carrier delivery, but now will revert those areas back to mail delivery. The neighborhoods in question include those with homes in front of wide, grassy strips between the street and sidewalk, and homes in hilly terrain, according to the one-page “Implementation Strategy” included in Broadnax’s memo to the council.

Zeeck said the advertising product will be converted to a weekly newspaper, which could include community news, features, a comic and a puzzle. As the product gains popularity with advertisers, more material and content could be added, he said.

“It’s our job to make it better all the time,” Zeeck said. “To me, the goal is to be precise in delivery and to be respectful and not deliver a second paper to a household that hasn’t picked it up from the previous week.”

Mello said it’s a good start, but the issue is not solved “by any stretch of the imagination.”

“I’m confident if they really, truly listen and not dismiss the concerns, that this can be resolved,” Mello said Saturday. “The concern remains that people won’t opt out because they are busy with their lives. … Just because they aren’t opting out doesn’t mean they want it.”

R.R. Anderson, owner of Tinkertopia on Pacific Avenue, has complained about the bags since his Central Tacoma neighborhood received them last month. He and others have formed a group opposed to the unsolicited ad drops.

“I think they look like dead salmon,” Anderson said of the plastic bags after they have sat for a while in the wet winter weather. “They weren’t even close to people’s houses.”

Anderson said opting out of delivery worked for his home, but he said he isn’t sure if it’s because his neighborhood was no longer targeted for advertising.

“The opt-outs are an important part of this delivery method,” Zeeck said.

“It’s more valuable to the advertiser and more cost-effective to us to deliver to the 90 percent who want it than the 10 percent who don’t.”

Zeeck said that delivering a free newspaper that includes advertising is a popular business model in the Puget Sound region. Sound Publishing, which is based in Everett and is a subsidiary of Black Press Ltd. of Victoria, B.C., delivers around 500,000 free weekly newspapers in almost two dozen communities in the Puget Sound area, he said.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542

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