ROXBURY, NJ - Thanks to the Internet, print newspapers have been declining for a decade. There’s at least one Roxbury resident who won’t miss a method used by the struggling industry to stay afloat: The free sample paper thrown on front yards.
That person is Emil Ruesch of Landing. He came last week to a Roxbury Mayor and Council meeting and spoke his mind.
“I’m here to get support in banning these free publications that are ruining our community,” Ruesch told the town officials.
He said the freebie papers are a form of littering he’s been unsuccessfully battling for years. “I’ve been unable to stop it,” Ruesch said. He said it’s bad enough when the tossed and unclaimed newspapers stay inside their plastic wrappers, but that’s not always what happens.
“Everything comes out,” said Ruesch, noting the subsequent explosion of loose paper and wind-borne plastic bags end up ruining his view of Lake Musconetcong.
“The pages are found in the lake,” he said. “They are going down our storm drains. They are adding pollution in town that we don’t need. It has to be stopped.”
Winter brings more headaches, Ruesch told the council. “A couple of years ago we had a snowstorm,” he said. “The paper was sucked into the auger of my snowblower and it broke the shear pin so I had to shovel through a couple of feet of snow. Where do my rights come in as a taxpayer?”
Then there’s the security aspect. Ruesch said “any burglar with an ounce of brains” can tell when a resident is away on vacation; the pile of free papers out front are a pretty clear indication.
Roxbury Township Attorney Anthony Bucco, who also represents a number of other New Jersey municipalities, told Ruesch he’s not alone in hating the newspaper solicitation method. While he said there are measures that can be taken, Bucco warned “there are some legal ramifications” in attempting to outlaw the practice. “There are Constitutional protections for these media outlets,” he said. “They are there and we have to be cognizant of them.”
Nevertheless, Bucco - who is also a state assemblyman - promised Ruesch he will “look at it, from a legal standpoint,” at the state level. “I agree with you 100 percent,” he said, noting that one municipality took on the newspapers and settled on an ordinance that forced the papers to give - to all it hoped to bless with free samples - “an address, phone number and contact person to call to stop delivery.”
Roxbury Councilman Fred Hall said he agreed with Ruesch, particularly about the security aspect. “When you go away on vacation, the last thing you want to have is any indication the house is empty,” he said. “Where does free speech come in conflict with the ability to protect your home?”
Ruesch said he is not suggesting newspaper delivery via the throw-it-on-the-ground method become illegal in all cases. “I am looking for a choice,” he said “They are not giving me a choice.”
He told the council he came to be on a first-name basis with one newspaper’s circulation department due to his efforts to stop the unwanted deliveries. As for the papers’ Constitutional rights, Ruesch repeatedly suggested that tossing plastic wrapped newspapers is a throwback to days gone by when media outlets had no other way of displaying their wares.
“We are in the 21st century,” he said, urging the council to take on the matter legally. “Any judge in his or her right mind would say we are in the 21st century … Somebody is going to have to take it by the horns and wrestle with it.”