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Proposed postal cutbacks have church newspapers worried

 

WASHINGTON — Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night is supposed to keep the postman from his appointed rounds, but Bob Terry still doesn’t understand why it takes four days for his copy of The Alabama Baptist newspaper to travel the 10 miles between the post office and his mailbox.

So when the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) recently floated the idea of cutting back service to five days a week, Terry, the newspaper’s publisher, got even more nervous.

“It could have dire consequences for print communication in churches,” said Terry, who sits on the Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee for the loose-knit Coalition of Religious Press Associations.

 

Worsening problem

Terry said his newspaper contains timely announcements of various church events, and copies that already arrive late have cost him subscribers. Cutting Tuesday or Saturday mail delivery would only make the problem worse, he said.

Gerald McKiernan, manager of media relations for the U.S. Postal Service, said the proposal to cut service was just that – a proposal. No decisions have been made about whether – or how – to reduce service in an effort to cut costs.

The USPS is facing a $2.8 billion deficit, and reducing six-day delivery to five days would save at least $3.5 billion, McKiernan said.

Along with paring back delivery, the USPS also requested changes in paying health benefits to employees – a change that McKiernan said could keep six-day delivery intact.

Still, some involved in small, faith-based publications have expressed concern that reduced service will only exacerbate current problems, especially on the heels of a postal rate increase in 2007 that was as much as 20 percent for some publications.

“Cutting back delivery days would only increase problems we already have,” said Debbie Campbell, director of circulation and public relations for the weekly Birmingham-based Alabama Baptist.

Terry, who has sparred with the USPS before, said small church publications don’t carry the same clout as larger publications. Debbie Christian, director of customer care for the Dallas-based United Methodist Reporter, said her newspaper sends out between 180,000 and 200,000 local church editions each week, and losing a day of delivery could result in big problems for her small staff.

“If they take a day of delivery out, that’s probably going to affect our business,” she said.

The Alabama Baptist has a statewide circulation of about 100,000 and prints weekly local church editions. Timeliness is imperative for churches because the material is about upcoming events and ministries that involve the participation of the congregation, Terry said.

 

Delivery curves

Last fall, the newspaper was reaching members of Eastside Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., two to three weeks late, said Pastor Mark Smith. Parishioners even approached him about removing their names from the newsletter mailing list to avoid further waste of the church’s resources.

Scott Bush, the pastor of Southcrest Baptist Church in Bessemer, Ala., had some delivery issues with his church’s edition of the newspaper, but said the issue may have been related to confusion over zip codes.

Still, he said “any curve that gets thrown could sure slow us down.”

McKiernan, from the USPS, said communication with local post offices is key, and recommended publications work with their local USPS branches to resolve problems.