Pittsburgh City Paper Takes Pulp to Court

Dispute turns on racks

Pittsburgh City Paper has obtained a court injunction ordering the new weekly Pulp not to place its papers in City Paper racks, but the judge wants the two sides to settle their other disputes without his having to rule again.

City Paper Publisher Michael Frischling says large numbers of copies of Pulp’s first edition were placed in City Paper’s indoor retail racks. He says copies of Pulp, now in its third week, continue to show up in City Paper racks, although in smaller numbers.

“I’m hoping to come up with a solution that they A, get racks and B, get authorization from retailers to place them in those establishments, and then make a diligent effort not to have Pulp end up in City Paper’s racks and that has to come from the top down,” Frischling says.

Pulp’s Publisher Catherine Nelson, former publisher of In Pittsburgh, says she is willing to meet all those conditions and that City Paper is actually “attempting to stop us from distributing, period.”

Pittsburgh City Paper’s owner, Steel City Media, bought In Pittsburgh last September and closed it. Pulp is owned by the Indiana Printing and Publishing Co. Inc., owners of the Indiana Gazette, a daily newspaper published in nearby Indiana County, Pa.

Nelson says free newspapers, from established alternative weeklies to shoppers, distributed in the vestibules of local bars, restaurants and coffee shops are constantly getting mixed up in the various racks. “You know how it goes,” she says.

Pulp did not have enough racks to accommodate all its distribution drops and in some cases placed stacks of the weekly on the floor, both sides agree.

“We have our own racks, we have our own boxes,” Nelson says. “I will put in a rack if it’s on the floor that’s bothering them. I will absolutely honor that. Now they want me to not put papers where they have exclusive agreements, and I am willing to honor that. But I say, ‘OK, where do you have exclusive agreements,’ and they won’t give me that information. How do I accommodate that?”

Nelson says that if City Paper has an exclusive distribution agreement with a retailer, “I’ll honor it even if it’s not in writing.”

Frischling says Pulp should obtain permission from all retailers before placing the paper on the premises and says the tactics Nelson is using now are “some tactics they [In Pittsburgh] used in the past.”

With Pulp “somehow, someway” appearing in City Paper racks, “People think Pulp has something to do with City Paper.”

“I don’t want anyone to confuse us with that paper,” Nelson says. “They want me to follow their business model. This frivolous lawsuit is distracting me … and it’s unconstitutional” for City Paper to try to dictate where and how Pulp can distribute.

“Pulp certainly needs to make an investment in racks,” Frischling says.

Nelson says few free weekly newspapers are in a position to make that kind of capital investment on startup. “I’m glad for them [City Paper] that they were able to,” she says.

“I’m frustrated,” Nelson says. “This is a phone call, not a lawsuit.”

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