Officials from the Boston Globe and the company it hired to distribute its advertising circulars told angry city councilors at a hearing today they're willing to try to keep Boston from being papered over with the circulars.
Councilors, who raised the specter of a possible fine system for errant deliveries, said they're looking, at a minimum for something like what Cambridge has - where Globe Direct has agreed to have drivers pick up circulars just lying on the ground and immediately comply with requests from homeowners to stop the damn things from coming.
City councilors Tim McCarthy, Sal LaMattina and Matt O'Malley and two residents who testified said Globe Direct could start by getting their phone system working, so that people who do manage to find the number in small print somewhere on one of their annoying bags can really count on Globe Direct to cancel their delivery when asked to the first time.
Scott Kelly of Roslindale said he has been trying for nine months to stop Globe Direct without success - and even with the repeated help of a supervisor at the delivery company. He said this past winter, snow plows would grind up all the circulars left on the road, and they all appeared as a gloppy mess of shredded paper and plastic when the snows melted in the spring.
"It makes my neighborhood look like a dump," he said. "I don't like having people over, it's embarrassing."
Dan O'Connor of Hyde Park said the second time he called to try to get the plastic-sheathed ads stopped, the man who answered said that was not possible because O'Connor was "on the mailing list" and that meant delivery would never stop.
McCarthy said he almost admires the Globe Direct guy who does deliveries on his block. "The guy literally throws them out a sunroof," he said. "It doesn't seem like he's looking at a (do not deliver) list. He's flicking papers, driving around the middle of the road, left and right, it's amazing to watch."
Jim Burbine, vice president of distribution services at Publishers Circulation Fulfillment, the company that actually delivers the circulars, allowed as how that was wrong. He said the company's drivers - independent contractors - are told to adhere to do-not-deliver lists and to try to get the things on people's steps, porches and walkways, not to just throw them willy-nilly as they speed down a street.
He said the company uses GPS and auditors to track drivers and does fire those found in violation. "We've replaced a lot of contractors," he said.
Whatever the company's doing, it's not enough, LaMattina said. LaMattina said he already has enough problems just trying to keep the streets of Charlestown and East Boston clean and the last thing he needs is more litter from Globe Direct. He said that at the Bunker Hill project, he's seen stacks of the things "just thrown all over the development."
"This is really out of control right now," he said. "[The Globe] takes us to task when we do something wrong, but they're doing something wrong now."
O'Malley said he and his neighbors in a small JP condo building are tired of finding 20 or 30 of the things on their front steps every week. O'Malley acknowledged residents have to put up with unsolicited circulars from Chinese restaurants and political candidates, but added, "there is nothing that even comes close to the frequency and sheer permeation of concentration" of Globe Direct.
Burbine added that in an effort to be helpful, Globe Direct is switching to clear bags and, when possible, just rubber bands. Jamie Nee, executive director of sales strategy and fulfillment at the Globe, said he'd be willing to put a full-page insert at the top of the circular at least once that would tell people how to stop delivery.
Councilors said that in addition to litter, the circulars are a public-safety hazard because circulars that just pile up are a clear sign to burglars a house is empty. LaMattina added that this past winter, one of his senior constituents stepped onto a Globe Direct bag and promptly slipped.
Although they said they would work with the city, Nee and Burbine rejected a request from councilors to switch from the current opt-out system - in which the roughly 80% of Boston households that do not subscribe to the Globe get Globe Direct - to an opt-in system, under which only people who specifically request the circulars would get them.
Burbine said many people look forward to the circulars, especially the supermarket ads. "It's a product that is overwhelmingly wanted in the home," he said.
In response to a question from O'Malley, Nee said he considers Globe Direct a direct-mail marketing effort, not a newspaper. O'Malley had earlier asked about the First Amendment concerns about trying to get Globe Direct to reduce its litter.