As many a sidewalk corner crowded with newspaper boxes demonstrates, Asheville is home to a large variety of publications of all stripes.
It’s great to have options, but those lines of stands have stirred complaints from some business owners, who say they attract litter and graffiti and block sidewalks. Currently, there is no law prohibiting anyone who wants to plop a newsstand down from doing so. For publishers, that freedom is inherently linked to the freedom of the press.
Asheville City Attorney Bob Oast upheld that sentiment at an Oct. 24 meeting of city representatives, Quality Forward, interested citizens and a number of publishers. The First Amendment, he said, has held strong in the defense of the press’ right to distribute its publications.
But judging from complaints from some merchants, leaving well enough alone may not be a long-term option.
“We are always concerned about clean, accessible sidewalks that are beautiful,” Quality Forward Executive Director Susan Roderick told Xpress. The nonprofit hosted the meeting, she said, in order to provide “neutral ground” for the discussion.
Several of those at the meeting belong to the Community Publishers Group, which presently has seven member publications and advocates for a multipublication-box approach wherein papers pay for the ability to be distributed in a tidier fashion. At present, the CPG has some 30 such boxes in use, several of them downtown, with plans to add more.
Xpress distribution manager Sammy Cox is also the administrative manager for the CPG. The group’s initiative, he hopes, could both professionalize and improve local-newspaper and magazine distribution and ward off more restrictive plans.
“We’re over-saturated with publications here,” Cox acknowledges. “We are trying to decrease that footprint.”
Others, including publishers of other Asheville papers, have balked at the new boxes, citing dues that must be paid in order to participate, and defending the clutter of multiple boxes as an Asheville aesthetic.
For now, city officials have said they prefer a “good neighbor” policy on the matter, with local publications volunteering to address the concerns, thereby, they hope, making an ordinance regulating newspaper distribution unnecessary.