It Just Might Work: Fewer newspaper boxes

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There are way too many of these things.

by Brian Clarey

I’ve been thinking a lot about newspaper boxes lately, and not just because we’re rolling out some new ones after our successful Kickstarter campaign.

And it occurs to me that there are way too many newspaper boxes on our city streets, particularly in our downtown areas.

I should say this position is directly at odds with the rest of the newspaper industry and will likely cause a stir among my peers. #YOLO.

And it’s true that this newspaper has a modest street presence: three outdoor boxes in downtown Greensboro and five in downtown Winston-Salem.

But there are hundreds of these things littering our streetcorners like obnoxious loiterers, many of which house products that are obsolete.

Think about it: No one buys a car or a house, rents an apartment or finds a job by picking up a junk sheet of ads lacking bereft of actual content. The world has moved on, but the cheap, plastic newspaper boxes remain.

Free weekly newspapers like ours are different — we actually serve a relevant purpose other than to sell ads. And, of course, we have a First Amendment right to distribute our work.

But let’s get real: How many newspaper boxes does one newspaper need to accomplish this goal? Is it really necessary to have a cluster of steel blocking the corners of every sidewalk, regardless of whether or not it has foot traffic? At what point do the proliferation of orange and black newspaper boxes cross the line from public service to street litter?

At least ours are works of art.

I have a secret fantasy of gathering up all the steel and plastic newspaper boxes in downtown Greensboro overnight and stacking them in a pyramid in a parking lot somewhere.

To control this I propose the taxicab analogy. Cities assess the need for taxicabs by population, income and employment numbers, and then give out a corresponding number of licenses.

It would be illegal to charge us to distribute our newspaper on a public street, but I don’t think there’s a law against limiting the amount of public space a privately-held company is allowed to permanently occupy.

A few downtown development plans ago there was a proposal for some community kiosks in Greensboro’s center city, open to all, in an effort to combat this glut of unwanted and unnecessary marketing crap. Sounds good to me.