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For subway riders, the free read is over.

Almost since the day Washington's subway system opened in the mid-1970s, thrifty commuters have read and shared newspapers fished from station trash bins. Some riders buy fresh papers, look them over and discard them; others retrieve a section or two, then throw them away again at another station. Pass-along reading became even more inviting in 1990, when subway officials put out specially marked newsprint recyling bins.

Now, however, the days of the free read are coming to an end, thanks to none other than the most read--and shared--paper in underground D.C., the Washington Post.

This spring, the Post began replacing the Washington subway's open-topped recycling bins with models emblazoned with the paper's masthead and the slogan, "Read, Ride, Recycle." The new Post bins have fixed lids, so anyone depositing a paper must shove it through a foot-high slot and listen as it drops several feet into a wire basket. Any commuter hoping to score a paper must reach in awkwardly and grope for whatever comes to hand--and that person better have long arms.

The Post insists it isn't trying to thwart freebie readers, although the paper's slogan notably isn't "Read, Ride, Reread, Reread, Reread, Recycle." Theodore Lutz, the newspaper's business manager and a former D.C. subway executive, says the design of the bins, including the narrow slots, reminds commuters not to drop litter into them.

Lutz says the Post spent $165,000 to buy 660 bins. "This looked like a socially useful way for us to get our name before the public," he says, and subway officials agreed to install them in highly visible areas. The Post is not involved in the actual recycling, and the subway keeps any profits from selling the discarded newspapers.

At least two other cities have similar but less ambitious programs. In December 1990, the Denver Post installed a total of a dozen bins at two local bus terminals, each with the paper's logo and "Read, Ride, Recycle." A year later, the San Francisco Newspaper Agency, which manages the Chronicle and Examiner, spent $25,000 to place 100 bins in various subway stations. Chronicle Marketing Director Michele Chaboudy says the agency's circulation department insisted the bins have lids and drop slots so commuters "can't go back in and steal [papers].... They were very concerned about that."

Lutz says that since the Washington Post's bins have been in place, sales from newspaper boxes at station entrances have not increased noticeably. That may be because some traditions die hard. At a few stops, undaunted riders have been spotted sifting through the regular trash bins, looking for their fix.
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Title Annotation:Washington Post changes newspaper recycling bins in city subway stations, forcing some to break habit of retrieving used newspapers from bins to read
Author:Overby, Peter
Publication:American Journalism Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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