TNT Response Re #ZeeckBag Issue

Things seem to be getting almost farcically out of hand between The News Tribune and some Tacoma residents. 

To summarize:

The TNT started distributing ad packets in orange bags. The bags went to to non-subscribers in neighborhoods that advertisers want to reach.

Citizens complained that the bags were showing up in the streets, parking strips, and sidewalks, and piling up in yards. Some protested by returning the plethora of bags to the TNT.

The TNT responded, promising to change the color of the bags, but saying that most citizens want them. They also offered an "opt out" option, but many residents have found that problematic.

Citizens complained to the City. The City Manager was sent to work with the TNT, and came back with the below response.

TO: Mayor and Council Members
FROM: T.C. Broadnax, City Manager
SUBJECT: The News Tribune Non-Subscriber Advertising Bags
DATE: February 20, 2014

As you are aware, the City has received numerous complaints about The News Tribune's (TNT) extra delivery placed in orange bags for non-subscribers. Citizens have requested that the City take action against the TNT for what they considered littering. Citizens have also requested that the City take action on our current Codes, or change our Codes so that the deliveries would be code violations.

Earlier today I met with TNT Publisher David Zeeck, and we had a very productive conversation about this issue and how the City and the TNT could work together to address the issue for both the residents and the TNT's advertising customers. Here are a few of the highlights of the TNT's strategy to address many of the concerns raised by residents:

  • Continue the direct deliveries where it is working well and work with the Post Office to move a portion of these products back into direct mail.
  • Stopping direct delivery to some neighborhoods with wide grassy strips between the street and public sidewalk, and neighborhoods that have hilly terrains with homes a few feet above street grade.
  • Converting the TNT's non-subscriber product (both direct delivery and direct mail) to a weekly newspaper model, which would include news content in addition to the advertising within the next several weeks.
  • Monitor the quality of the direct deliveries to ensure the carriers do not throw additional papers if the previously delivered papers are still visible, and by offering incentives for carriers with "clean" routes (picking up unretrieved papers in gutters and near storm drains).
  • Offer an opt-out form on the TNT website so vacant homes can be reported and residents can request the deliveries to stop.

The above-mentioned changes that the TNT has committed to making, clearly demonstrates their willingness to work with the City and residents to address the many concerns that have been expressed. The City will continue to work with the TNT and observe whether or not the proposed changes have the desired impacts. For additional information, please see the attached Implementation strategy which Mr. Zeeck provided during our meeting today.

The specifics of the TNT's strategy for dealing with citizen concerns:

"The News Tribune Extra" Implementation Strategy

We're moving some delivery back to direct mail

  • We've decided direct delivery doesn't make sense in some neighborhoods, especially where houses are close together and where property boundaries aren't clearly divided by driveways, for example. We're moving those neighborhoods back into direct mail.
  • We are working to stop direct delivery to neighborhoods with especially wide grassy strips between the street and sidewalk. Delivery will go back to direct mail.
  • We are working to stop direct delivery to neighborhoods with hilly terrain where homes are more than a few feet above street grade. That delivery will go back to direct mail.

We're converting the product to a weekly paper

  • Both direct delivery or direct mail products are being converted into a weekly newspaper. That weekly paper will include news content and more retail and classified advertising, in addition to inserts. That's more attractive for readers and provides another way to promote community events and share community news.

Improving delivery

  • We asked our delivery vendor to increase the random checks supervisors make on every route each week. They also continuously train their carriers on the GPS technology that helps carriers deliver -- and skip -- the right houses.
  • Delivery will be to driveways where possible. That makes it more obvious who is intended to receive the product. That also makes it easier the next week for a carrier to spot an unretrieved paper and not deliver a second one.
  • We're asking our distribution partner to constantly remind carriers not to throw a new paper if the last week's paper is still there.
  • Our distribution partner instituted a carrier incentive system that puts a greater emphasis on "clean" routes. The system also puts special emphasis on keeping unretrieved papers away from storm drains.

Making opt-out easier to find

  • We set up a an opt-out form on the TNT website. It can be found at Residents can also use that form to report papers delivered to vacant homes, so we can check it out and stop them if needed.
  • For some people who called and emailed us, it truly WAS about the bags being orange.
  • But we also hope the clear bags allow people to find the opt-out message at a glance.
  • More true opt-outs save us time, money, newsprint and plastic.

We've been here more than 125 years. The 300+ people who work at the TNT live in and love this community. Some of us grew up here. The rest of us choose to stay here out of affection for the place. Our mission is producing newspapers (and websites) that are an essential element of a strong civic culture. We fund the mission through the home delivery and/or digital delivery of news, and by building and distributing advertising that helps locals businesses grow. We also strive to be good neighbors, listen to both our friends and critics, and try to operate in a responsible and ethical way.

Citizens are planning another round of protest at this week's City Council meeting. The TNT published their own coverage of the issue over the weekend.

All of which leaves us wondering, how hard it is to deliver to front steps in a reasonable and respectful manner? Can't we all just get along?

(Also, people had an issue with the orange bags in particular?)

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The whole “orange bag” thing is a red-herring. The issue was not the color of the bag but the contents and the way that it was being delivered.

I posted this earlier today to Facebook:

Delivering a package of ads with no editorial content and then asking people to opt out of receiving it is the real-world equivalent of email spam. I am happy to read that The News Tribune plans to create an advertising-supported newspaper to deliver to targeted Tacoma residents in a more justified effort to spread its clients’ advertisements across the circulation area - although it sure seems like a huge confirmation that the newspaper’s subscriber base is no longer sufficient to support the advertising rates for the regular newspaper and website. Whether the news content in this new product will ever compare to the examples of other advertising-supported community newspapers remains to be seen. Many folks are going to be watching and likely complaining about this.

February 24, 2014 at 1:35 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Jenny JRegistered

For me the real question is why the TNT doesn’t just say they’ll make sure the bags get on people’s porches? Any paper boy worth anything could do it - why can’t these delivery people? And if they can’t, why doesn’t the TNT just fire them and go with someone else?

February 24, 2014 at 1:46 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Peter PeterRegistered


February 24, 2014 at 3:05 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Colleen Gray

TNT certainly needs to up the skill set of their delivery force. Maybe stick with high school baseball players?

BTW, if anyone wants to contact the fellow in charge of this program at the News Tribune, try .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), (253) 597-8725.

Sorry Phil.

February 24, 2014 at 4:34 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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I get on average about 2 other advertising mailers that seem to either be delivered via postage or by a person with a doorhanger.  They both successfully get to my door.  If the TNT can’t manage that they’re just cutting corners at the expense of the community.

February 25, 2014 at 1:32 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Published Author RR AndersonRegistered

at first I was offended by the ‘broncos orange’ bags so close on the heels of the Sea Hawks sports victory…  Now that zeeck has adjusted the color to ‘invisible’  I am totally cool with it.  Besides, when I scoop poop I can see clearly my dog’s digestive health.  I should invest in a dog.

February 24, 2014 at 1:57 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Seth Long

Rob’s right that it’s akin to spam: unsolicited commercial delivery. But in the case of email we have laws to prevent this exact sort of behavior.

The orange bags were a minor problem, but in 2 ways. First, they had no News-Tribune branding and gave no clue if there’s anything valuable inside. Second, they look like something you’d use to clean up after a dog, furthering the impression that they’re litter.

The complaints about the bags are about optics. The complaints about the program in general and opting-out are the real issues.

Worth mentioning: I just watched a carrier “deliver” mine as I was typing this. The bag is now clear and he at least slowed the car down, but he very deliberately aimed for a puddle in my driveway (which he just barely missed) and nowhere near my walk or front porch.

February 24, 2014 at 1:59 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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I carry my canvas bags to the supermarket, I put produce and bulk goods in hemp bags and reusable containers, I recycle all the garbage I cannot avoid (for instance, direct mail). I admire efforts in Seattle, San Francisco, and elsewhere to eliminate plastic bags, and I have a great deal of concern for marine mammals and the plastic in our waterways, such as Puget Sound—which I’m guessing people love if they also love Tacoma. And what does TNT do? Orders a huge supply of plastic bags and print material, generates automatic street waste, creates a market not for its ads but for exactly the non-sustainable things that responsible people avoid. TNT seems absolutely blind to their environmental impact, to say nothing of the other ways their circulars annoy residents.

February 24, 2014 at 2:03 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Would be interesting if this incident snowballed into a ban plastic bags in the city campaign.

February 25, 2014 at 1:33 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Plastic bags aren’t the issue.

February 25, 2014 at 1:49 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Landscaping and dry cleaning representatives don’t deliver ad spam at god forsaken times of the wee mornings, but those are the times under the night of darkness the paper does their spam drive-by

February 24, 2014 at 2:07 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Peter PeterRegistered

Who’s doing the PR for The News Tribune? When they first received the criticism, the TNT should’ve acknowledged it. They don’t have to agree with it, but they should listen and at least pretend like they care. Instead, they choose to get defensive, dismiss the complaints outright, and delete all criticism that appears on their pages. Then they hire additional security at their building. This is not how an organization that wants to play well with the community acts.

February 24, 2014 at 3:04 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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The TNT standards have really deteriorated. When my kids threw papers the rule was they had to be within 3 feet of the door.

February 25, 2014 at 1:53 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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I am equally annoyed when my yard and the sidewalks all over my neighborhood are sprinkled with plastic bags, no matter the color. It’s funny that people were concerned with the orange color; did you really get many comments to that effect? On a (less than) 1 mile walk yesterday in the North End, I kicked about 6 of the new clear-bag mailers out of the middle of the sidewalk.

February 26, 2014 at 1:11 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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I’ll be curious to see how well the “opt-out” service works. We have a regular subscription at our house and we’ve still gotten at least 3 of the bag ads.

February 26, 2014 at 1:18 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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I have seen the “flier” delivery in action. A person with the window rolled down, driving down Alder throwing the “fliers” out the window. No care in the world where they landed. This might just be enough for me to cancel my TNT subscription. Maybe if enough of us in Tacoma made that statement the littering would stop. We pick up “fliers” daily on our morning walk. I wonder if the people in the vacant houses for sale have opted in our opted out?

February 26, 2014 at 7:44 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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January 21, 2015 at 9:01 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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