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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Atlanta homeowners declare war on AJC Reach

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I've been sitting on this for a little while, largely because it seemed as if bigger things were going on in the world. But now that other media have picked up on the story, it's time to let the truth be told!

And the truth is, Atlanta homeowners hate them some AJC Reach.

What's the Reach, you ask? Well, it's a bunch of ad circulars tucked into a plastic sleeve and dropped in your lawn. Or driveway. Or the sidewalk in front of your house. More about the placement in a moment.

The AJC has been doing this since late December. And for nearly that long, city officials have been getting calls from people upset about the plastic bags littering their streets and vacant lots.

"I've been inundated with complaints about it," says Councilwoman Carla Smith, who represents a chunk of southeast Atlanta.

A new website, StopAJCReach.org, is devoted to, well, stopping the AJC from throwing the ad circulars in yards. It even advocates boycotting Reach advertisers. There's also a related Facebook page, AJC Reach: Stop Littering Our Neighborhoods!, with more than 380 members. And if you Google "AJC Reach," nearly every link that appears is complaint-related. (The only one that that's not is a link to an AJC site where you can buy an ad in the Reach.)

Now, it must be noted that other news outlets have been throwing their print products in people's yards for decades. The Neighbor Newspaper chain and local publications like Grant Park's Porch Press have based their entire business model on direct home distribution — whether you, the homeowner, actually want it (although, in most cases, you do, right?).

They can do this without asking your permission because of a little thing called the First Amendment. In fact, for a brief period several years ago, even CL dabbled with throwing our paper in people's yards. (If we ever revived this practice, I'd vote we dub it the CL Reacharound.

Common sense would, of course, draw a distinction between an actual newspaper like the DeKalb Neighbor and the Reach, which is just a mess of ads without editorial content. But the Constitution doesn't see a big difference and its protections extend to both.

The local CBS affiliate ran a report over the weekend claiming that attorneys for the city say the AJC "is breaking the law." Because the Reach is considered a "handbill" under Atlanta code, it can only be distributed on private property and only in a fashion that reasonably ensures it's not going to blow around.

Now, here's where placement matters. This morning, just like every Tuesday morning, I picked the Reach off the very bottom of my driveway between the sidewalk and the street. This is public right-of-way and, as the CBS report suggests, leaving it there is an illegal act. As I drove down the street, I didn't see a single Reach on private property. I'll go as far as to submit that I cannot recall ever having seen a Reach lying on private property.

But proving the AJC is breaking the law is another matter. Because the Reach is protected by the First Amendment — and because the AJC is presumably lawyered up — the city's only real option here is to coax the Cox folks into dropping their ads into people's yards, instead of in the right-of-way. And that, frankly, isn't likely to satisfy angry neighbors.

As long as the AJC can withstand the public outcry, I suspect we'll have to endure the Reach.

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