Media General joins battle for newspaper street vendors

Richmond-based Media General jumped into the legal fray in Florida this week when it filed a motion in federal court there to fight a proposed ban on street solicitation in St. Petersburg, according to a report from the Tampa Tribune.

Media General, owner of the Richmond Times Dispatch and the Tampa paper, joined forces with Times Publishing Company, which originally filed a suit, arguing that the ban would harm the business of newspaper street vendors.

The ban, designed to prevent street solicitation between a pedestrian and a motorist, was initially approved last week by the St. Petersburg City Council, according to the Tribune. It’s set to go into effect Sunday.

Both sides disagree on the true intent behind the ban, according to the Tribune report:

Although city officials argued the ban was aimed at public safety, the Times lawsuit alleges its real aim is to target the homeless and panhandling. Safety isn’t an issue with street vendors, the suit claims, because newspaper hawkers are trained to avoid accidents, which are extremely rare.

The city states however that it has proof that newspaper street vendors also pose a safety concern, according to the Tribune.

On Sunday, the city conducted video surveillance of newspaper hawkers. Several still photos were included in the city’s response. They showed hawkers in the street, in the middle of traffic, while the light is green. The photos contradicted what a Times contractor, Maurice Beausoleil, had said in a statement filed Tuesday about the precautions he takes to make sure vendors are safe. He said he instructs them to only sell papers when the traffic light is red and to never “step or walk in the roadway.”

The ban, according to the story, applies to the busiest roads around St. Petersburg, about 20 percent of the city’s roadways.

A federal court judge was to consider the matter today.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this story is that there is still such a thing as newspaper hawkers.

Read the Tampa Tribune story here.

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