Should State And Local Government Bail Out Newspapers?

By Art Gallagher

In a column published on northjersey.com this morning, Bergen Record columnist Charlie Stile lays out the case against legislation that would allow local governments to post their legal notices on the web, rather than to place ads in newspapers at the expense of taxpayers and private businesses and individuals.

The case, according to the Star Ledger publisher Richard Vezza….giving politicians the option of spending money with newspapers or posting the notices on government websites would turn the press into “lapdogs you can control” rather than watchdogs.

The bill could very well put some newspapers out of business, according to Stile.

Charlie Stile just wrote that newspapers integrity is for sale and that legal notices are essentially a government bailout of the industry.   I like Charlie, but I don’t see any other way to read his column.

The publishers who testified in Trenton against the legislation said it wouldn’t save that much money. Only $8 million for taxpayers “which isn’t that much when spread over 566 municipalities,” and $12 million for private businesses and individuals (who are also taxpayers, presumably).  Proponents of the legislation say it would produce a $70 million savings.

I was killing some time with an associate yesterday while we were waiting to meet someone.  A copy of the Asbury Park Press was in the waiting area.  My friend picked up the paper and said, “I stopped buying this paper two years ago.  I can believe how thin it is.”   The classified section was only 5 or 6 pages.  Three of those pages were legal notices.  A 1/2 page was prostitution ads and Al Gore style “massage therapists” ads.

The question of legal ads should not be one of journalistic integrity….the publishers have already unwittingly admitted that their integrity is a fallacy and that they can be bought.  Nor should the question be one of propping up a struggling industry, as desirable as that industry might be.

The question should be, What is the least expensive way to get the ads to the most people?  

Clearly, the private sector has already voted.  Ad dollars have left the newspaper industry and gone to the Internet where the message finds a larger audience for less money.  Requiring taxpayers, private business and individuals to prop up a failing industry only prolongs the inevitable.   Technology has made newspapers obsolete, just as technology made the horse and buggy and the 8-track player obsolete.

Sad, as the obsolescence of the horse and buggy was for those invested in that industry and who couldn’t or wouldn’t adapt was sad, but true.

Posted: February 8th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Media, NJ Media | Tags: , | 11 Comments »

11 Comments on “Should State And Local Government Bail Out Newspapers?”

  1. Freespeaker1976 said at 12:11 pm on February 8th, 2011:

    NO, especially if it’s The Asbury Park Press 🙂

  2. Bayshore Tea Party Group said at 1:29 pm on February 8th, 2011:

    Should We Bailout Newspapers?…

    Err ……

  3. Fox News rules said at 8:13 pm on February 8th, 2011:

    Does this mean that before long, Kevin Penton will be bringing me my lime chicken in Applebees?

  4. MarkEd said at 9:15 am on February 9th, 2011:

    Our local governments are broke. In a perfect world we would publish notices on radio because there is an underserved part of the community that can not read. But that would be ridiculously expensive. We have to make choices based on cost. Luckily there is a solution. Look at this site http://free-public-notice.com . It is FREE-You don’t have to subscribe to a newspaper to receive the notices THE NOTICES COME TO YOU-. No more hunting for notices in the back of the newspaper. They e-mail alerts based on preference of both type of notice and locality. (“Please e-mail me whenever there is a zoning hearing in Camden”. Set it up once and forget it. -IMMEDIATE-The local government doesn’t have to wait for the notice to be published in the newspaper for it to be published on line. The government employees can upload it straight to the site. -BETTER DISCLOSURE-They link to the original documents (zoning maps, bid specifications, providing way more information than a notice in print. In addition, they map to the localities-DOCUMENTATION- they provide affidavits of publishing. -GREEN- No cutting down trees to publish these notices. -PERMANENCE- The notices stay on line forever. In newspapers, they are published in a few editions and then are gone. COST SAVINGS- The local governments will save 90% of what they spend in notices. The newspaper’s publish the notices for only a few weeks.This issue is playing out all over the country. Read http://legal-notice.org. Newspapers do a lot of things really well. But so do a lot of businesses. It doesn’t mean as taxpayers we should overspend for a service that is now inferior

  5. Gene Baldassari said at 9:33 am on February 9th, 2011:

    The idea that taxpayers must support the largest privately owned business of it’s type to satsify a simple notification requirement is silly.

    Websites are cheap, can index notices, and can make them available for several months or years.

    I like that suggestion.

  6. James Hogan said at 10:20 am on February 9th, 2011:

    I mean, it seems a bit much to really get into on a blog comment, but *IF* the cost of printing legal notices is what’s really dragging down our nation, then I think we must have some much bigger problems. I’m not saying that I think newspaper printing makes sense or is the most efficient distribution method; as a tech guy, the website route is clearly the “better” solution, but then if you want to really get into it, as I’ve asked before, why do I need Frank Pallone to go to DC to “represent” me? It’s not like this is 1776 and I can’t communicate with the rest of the world instantly; if there is an issue that needs voting on, I’d be glad to place my own vote, online or via text message, or a phone call, or an email… I think modern technology could replace a lot of the junk we have now, like a $180K/yr + benefits politician along with his office staff and benefits packages, and save everyone a lot of money and the annoyance of being misrepresented, so the real question is, are We The People really prepared to change the status quo for a modern alternative? I doubt it, and I’d bet the proof is that if you stopped seeing legal notices in the local papers, you’d see plenty of people complaining about “secret government actions” and a “lack of transparency”. I’m pretty sure if you attend your local city hall meeting or check the agenda, you can find out the items you need to know about anyway…

  7. NeptuneMatters said at 12:31 pm on February 9th, 2011:

    This is where local blogs become important as well. That’s what we are trying to build in Neptune, a blog willing to ask the hard questions without worrying who is paying the bill. Being FREE, invokes a certain FREEDOM. You don’t have to worry about anything but ferreting out the truth.

  8. Long past time said at 4:13 pm on February 9th, 2011:

    to stand up to the papers: let the car and real estate industries keep them going: the legislators and other public officials have been scared to pass this very ld concept, in the hopes of getting endorsed by the editorial boards, which means next to nil these days!.. get it done, now, and save some big dollars!

  9. Shel Justshel said at 6:43 pm on February 9th, 2011:

    LOL! were u serious?
    In case you were: Absolutely, positively NO.
    The public has spoken and rejected the state-controlled left-wing media. In its death throes it desperately seeks the nearest money stream – aha! the taxpayer trough! Here’s what they’re thinking: “Banks do it, automakers do it, even Fannie and Freddie do it – let’s do it – let’s get BAILED OUT”
    Word to the lamestream media: The public doesn’t want to support yet another failed industry. Adapt or wither away.

  10. Should State And Local Government Bail Out Newspapers … — Debt Free Forever! said at 5:59 pm on March 2nd, 2011:

    […] dan posted about this interesting story. Here is a small section of the postCharlie Stile just wrote that newspapers integrity is for sale and that legal notices are essentially a government bailout of the industry. I like Charlie, but I don’t see any other way to read his column. … […]

  11. MoreMonmouthMusings » Blog Archive » Call Your Legislators: Stop Corporate Welfare For Newspapers said at 9:20 am on January 7th, 2012:

    […] Legislation that ends the requirement of “Legal Ads” being published in newspapers, in favor of the ads being posted on government websites, is on the calendar in both the Senate and Assembly on Monday, the last day of the current legislative session. […]