Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Junk Journalism and the Bogus Postal Statistic

When a respected magazine's cover story cited a statistic, I used to assume the number had at least some connection to reality. Not any more -- not after reading Bloomberg Businessweek's recent piece on the U.S. Postal Service.

Here's the stat that really stumped me: "In the last quarter of 2010, junk revenue climbed 7.1 percent," with the added statement, "Unfortunately for the USPS, junk volume has since plateaued."

Nowhere does the article define "junk mail", though it uses the phrase liberally. It's certainly a term you won't find in any USPS reports.

"Junk mail" is a bit like "pornography": It's hard to define, but you know it when you see it. I think most people would agree that it's mail that is both unwanted and irrelevant to you -- something that goes directly into the recycling bin or garbage can.

Businessweek's definition of "junk mail", however, is apparently Standard-class mail -- all Standard-class mail. Standard's revenue in the last quarter of calendar year 2010 increased by the magic 7.1%, which was true of no other class or subclass of mail. It grew only 0.9% in the 1st Quarter of this year.

According to the magazine's unstated definition, your favorite catalog is junk mail. That Red Cross plea to help the folks in Joplin, MO? Junk. The reminder notice about your class reunion, the annual reports for your mutual funds, and that parcel with the item you ordered on the Web? All junk. A subscription solicitation for a certain weekly business-news magazine? Yep, Junk City, baby.

Here's another head-scratcher in the article: "The USPS has historically placed the interests of its unions first." That's news to those who have followed the Postal Service's at-times acrimonious relations with its unions. Yes, postal executives must try to appease the unions, but only because Congress has put the unions in such a strong bargaining position.

The article goes on to suggest that the recent labor contract with the APWU is just another union giveaway. But even APWU members who grumble about the contract's "eating your young" provisions have written to me acknowledging it was a brilliant, money-saving deal for the Postal Service.

One more complaint: I had to flip past a lot of junk pages for companies like Verizon, JPMorgan Chase, and Siemens to get to the article. Oops, I forgot: Businessweek doesn't call those "junk pages"; it calls them "advertising".


dryMAILman said...

Seimans mail sorting equipment IS junk. It can't sort postcards.

Anonymous said...

Bravo!! Couldn't have stated it any better-

Anonymous said...

Insomuch as your stats are reasonably accurate, your "facts" are also skewed to mislead and misrepresent that which is and perhaps what will be.

That having been said, I noticed with reserved amusement that in order to read this pointed "anti-USPS" item on the DEAD TREE EDITION web site, there were no less than nine (9) "junk advertisements" on the same page, all I am sure quite necessary such to support the very existence of the DEAD TREE EDITION. After all, where would any of our communication entities be without good old junk mail or junk advertising of one sort or the other? Eh?

Dave Lewis said...

Goodness. Everyone is so loyal to their own channel - they all have their place. I've been in the the mailing industry for years, and I've promoted business through print ads, email, banner ads, Google Ad Words - even direct mail. They all worked in one form or another, depending on the circumstance. I don't consider any of them "junk."

I'm guessing Business Week executives didn't sit cackling around a cauldron as they plotted the demise of the direct mail industry. I think this is more a case of lazy journalism. Fair or not, "junk mail" is a term most of the American public can relate to - it's part of the vernacular. I'm guessing the intent was more thoughtless than evil.

Anonymous said...

The article is slanted. It also mentions the new APWU contract and mentions a 3.5 % pay raise for clerks and "seven uncapped cost-of-living increases". Those raises are split into three raises over the life of the contract, the last raise is in 2014 and it has been years since there even was a COLA adjustment. It makes no mention of the new second tier at lower wages for all new hires.
The article also still quotes the 80% of budget figure for salaries and benefits. I've seen elsewhere that this is an old number, not a current figure.

Anonymous said...

If it does not have first class postage it goes in the recycling bin. I rarely give the catalogs more than a glance. After delivering the "junk" all day, the last thing I want to do is look at it when I get home.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dead Brain Edition....

Eating your young is not "brilliant"
It is APWU rolling over like Scooby Doo for a poisoned treat.

USPS is flush with cash held by Treasury. Years ago EVERYONE pointed this out.
PAEA was GOP's way of hiding this money to create this "USPS financial crisis"

We are not fools.

Anonymous said...

It's funny/sad when people claim they just toss any kind of mail in the bin "without looking at it". They are so proud.
It's kind of like the people who claim they don't watch TV, but actually get all the same content from the internet.

The Capn's Corner said...

After a 40 year career with the Post Office, the Business Week article is misleading and degrading. I delivered MAIL (no class distinction here) through all seasons and types of weather. Mail paid our salary, and we didn't question if it was worthy of our time. If Business Week devoted as much time to honest reporting of actual news as we devoted delivering the mail, and I mean ALL the mail, then I might have a bit more respect for them!