Newsrack Truce in Pittsburgh

Local Publishers, City Officials Agree on Voluntary Enforcement Program.

All is quiet on Pittsburgh’s newsrack front. The placidity is the result of a voluntary accord reached by local newspaper publishers and city officials, who just six months ago had talked of scripting tighter newsrack regulations.

Dubbed the “Good Neighbor” program, the agreement is designed to let local publications police their own racks by voluntarily complying with various maintenance and placement standards. For instance, the “Good Neighbor” program prohibits the placement of a newsrack “within six feet of a fire hydrant” and requires local papers to provide “the name and telephone number of a representative who will be available to immediately respond to issues raised by the Department of Public Works.”

Pittsburgh City Paper Publisher Brad Witherell says the pact also establishes a task force comprised of representatives from six local papers, including three dailies (USA Today, the Tribune-Review and Post Gazette) and one alternative weekly (either City Paper or In Pittsburgh ). According to Witherell, the task force will work with a downtown business group, the Public Works Department and City Council to finalize the details of the accord.

The “Good Neighbor” compromise is a far cry from the hostile talk that dominated Pittsburgh’s newsrack dialogue only six months ago, when city council member Alan Hertzberg raised the specter of communal racks and newsrack licensing fees.

Hertzberg’s plan was met with opposition from publishers, who started attending the council’s meetings en masse. Hertzberg backed down after it was clear that his fellow council members would not strongly support his newsrack proposals.

“[Local publishers] went to the meetings, hired attorneys and wrote letters [in opposition to Hertzberg’s proposal],” says Witherell. “I think the city council realized that anything they came up with, we were going to fight. I don’t think the city wanted to litigate this thing — and neither did we.”