KHOU’s dogged determination to get to the bottom of why some Houstonians aren’t getting their mail earns congressional approval and thanks from viewers.
In mid-December 2023, KHOU, Tegna’s CBS affiliate in Houston, got an email from a viewer about a valuable package she was waiting for to be delivered by the United States Postal Service. The tracking info said it was delivered, but it had not and was way late. She told the station that she was getting the run around from the post office.
Initially, the station chalked it up to the holiday rush. Then, they started hearing from many more people about the same issue.
“I think that was okay, this isn’t just your run of the mill the mail is late,” says Wiley Post, KHOU’s assistant news director. “We need to do a story on this. We need to ask some questions. We need to see what is going on.”
As the station dug into the story, they realized it wasn’t just packages that were missing or late, it was “everything from priority mail to envelopes to express mail deliveries,” Post says.
He says the post office blamed the problem on the Christmas rush.
But the problem worsened over the holidays, and the station suspected “something must be wrong this year,” Post says. “They are experiencing something more than the average Christmas holiday shipping rush.”
KHOU uncovered a red flag: All the people who were complaining to the station about delayed or lost mail had something in common.
“All of them were coming through one place, a sorting facility in the city,” says Liz Roldán, KHOU’s news director.
And the post office wasn’t talking.
Chris Henao, KHOU’s assistant news director, says what they got from the post office was a general statement that did not address the specific issue.
“They have yet to present anybody on camera to do an interview to answer any direct questions,” Henao says.
Meanwhile the frustration from those affected was snowballing.
“The more stories we did, the more people responded,” Roldán says.
Early on, the station easily surpassed 5,000 emails and comments from social media channels.
Those numbers climbed into the “tens of thousands of people in the Houston area,” Henao says. “Numbers that are pretty incredible, and pretty astounding for any issue,” he says.
The number of responses from people who have the same issue with their mail being lost or delayed was so high, it flooded the news tips email, and the station had to create a new email for people to reach them.
Some of the complaints were a matter of life and death including people not getting their medication. Most delays of people not getting their meds were weeks and weeks, says Stuart Boslow, KHOU’s innovation director.
“Businesses were failing because the mail was not getting where it needed to go,” Boslow says. “Their biggest mistake in terms of the small business operator was taking the packages to USPS and not realizing it was a black hole,” Henao says.
The station continued to try and get answers from the postal service to no avail.
KHOU approached the local congressman of Missouri City, the location of the sorting facility, who said his office was hearing from his constituents about the issue. He was also getting stonewalled by the postal service.
Then a long-time postal service employee came forward to talk on the record if the station would protect his identity for fear of reprisals against him.
The source revealed that the postal service had brought in a large piece of sorting equipment to alleviate staffing issues, Post says.
“But this source claimed that they didn’t do the proper measurements in the facility and so this piece of equipment didn’t fit,” he says. “The story is dumbfounding. Again we give the postal service an opportunity to acknowledge this as just a large, but simple screw up.”
But Post says “they heard nothing, no acknowledgement, no response to it, please see our previous statement.”
KHOU kept the pressure on.
Dale Lockett, KHOU’s marketing director, says the station promoted a story airing after the Grammy Awards on Sunday night, Feb. 4.
“That was a showcase opportunity for us to just show we are still doing the work,” Lockett says. “We haven’t let up on holding them accountable for this.”
Henao says the congressional delegation has encouraged KHOU to keep reporting on the issue.
“Because you guys, KHOU, are what is pushing USPS to make any changes to repair the mess that is going on,” Henao says they told him. “Both chambers have told us that they are hearing from their constituents in numbers that they have never seen for any kind of issue and USPS is not doing anything to reply to them. So they point back to us and say please KHOU, please keep doing these stories. You guys are the ones that are fueling anything to get this thing resolved.”
Boslow says the digital metrics show these stories are always at the top of the list for days.
“I am looking at it right now and the one we did Sunday night is still number one on our website with ten thousand clicks just today. So these stories are definitely resonating with the audience.”
Post says his “measurement of success is every e-mail we have gotten that just says thank you for listening to us, thank you for hearing our story, thank you for trying, thank you for asking these questions, thank you for looking into this.”
“I really hope that you keep covering this story until it’s resolved. Many people are still in the same boat that I am.”
“I appreciate your coverage and shedding light on this absolute disaster.”
“I want to thank you and the rest of your team for helping me and so many others. What a relief “
“Thank you, KHOU 11 News!”
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