Censorship at the Checkout Counter

Roundy’s Inc. has basically cornered the food market business in the Milwaukee area, as its Pick ‘n Save and Metro Market Stores have garnered more than half of the grocery business.

It’s only natural then that the alternate weekly newspaper, Shepherd Express, which distributes its free weekly papers each Wednesday throughout the area, would find that more than 75% of its circulation of 262,000 would be through the two Roundy food chains.

Now, obviously bowing to right-wing complaints, the company has notified Shepherd Express that as of Nov. 5 it will no longer permit the paper to be stacked at the entrances and exits of its many stores.

What prompted this?  It all started last April, according to Publisher Louis Fortis in the Oct. 27th Shepherd Express, when the newspaper was told to remove its newspapers from the company’s five stores in suburban Brookfield in April 2011, a day after the newspaper announced on the front page its endorsement of JoAnne Kloppenburg for Supreme Court justice.  Kloppenburg enjoyed wide support of Democrats and liberals in the state in her close but losing race against Justice David Prosser, who was strongly supported by conservatives (of which Brookfield has many).

Now Roundy’s has banned the Shepherd from ALL of its stores, robbing the 192,700 readers who on the average each week pick up the paper at the stores from easy access to the paper.

It’s a “business decision,” Roundy’s claims; yet, it certainly has ideological overtones.  The Shepherd has traditionally supported Democrats and many liberal causes; yet, it is an independent voice that has also been critical of many politicians and leaders on the left.  The newspaper has become a Milwaukee tradition, after being established during the heady days of the 1960s; it has successfully outlived all other alternate newspapers that have sprouted up from time to time in the community, largely since it has complete coverage of the arts, offers humor and comment by respected columnists.

With the Journal Company almost totally commanding the print media market in the Milwaukee area (the Journal Sentinel and its monopoly of suburban and neighborhood weeklies), it’s critical that such a strong competitor as the Shepherd Express continue to exist and continue to be a vital source of information.  Financed by its advertising revenue, the Shepherd Express remains subscription-free — as long as there are enough outlets where readers can pick it up (and advertisers are able to reach a substantial audience).

With the loss of Roundy’s stores among its distribution points, the Shepherd Express could easily become an economic casualty of shrunken ad revenue, and a lost source of alternate opinion in the area.  All of us who believe that the health of our democracy requires the freest flow of ideas, opinions and information should be alarmed at this decision of Roundy’s.

No one says Roundy’s is required by law to permit the distribution of any and all newspapers, but certainly in the interests of fair play and democracy they have no business in banning the Shepherd Express while their stores continue to offer access to many other newspapers, including the Journal Sentinel, the Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune.

WHAT TO DO: Call “Chairman Bob” Mariano of Roundy’s at 414-231-5804 and politely ask him to please continue serving his customers by permitting access to the Shepherd Express.

Ken Germanson, Oct. 28, 2011