The Neptune Nudniks got one right today.
In their editorial, Change inevitable for post office, The Asbury Park Press editorial board accurately spells out how the Internet and digital technology has changed the economics of information delivery, making the United States Postal Service obsolete and insolvent.
The post office is undergoing a major downsizing. Appropriately so because people are just not using it they way we used to. Electronic exchange of documents and information is just far more efficient than physically moving paper across town or across the country.
The Press concludes that, “we cannot subsidize what should be a self-sustaining entity any more than we could subsidize the buggy whip industry at the turn of the last century.”
That unassailable reasoning should also be applied to the subsidies the newspaper industry receives in the form of state mandated legal and public notices advertising.
Classified advertisings in newspapers has gone the way of the buggy whip industry. It has been replaced by craigslist, ebay, autotrader.com, realtor.com, realtytrac.com, and countless other websites. The once thick classified sections of newspapers are now four or five pages daily, half of which is government compelled legal and public notices.
Bi-partisan legislation, The Electronic Publication Of Legal Notices Act, passed the State Senate in July of 2010 and the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee in February of this year. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver has blocked the bill from being voted on by the full Assembly.
With millions of dollars in government mandated subsidies at stake, the newspaper industry came out in force to lobby against the bill arguing that legal notices on government websites instead of in newspapers really wouldn’t save the government money, that poor people without computers would not have access to the vital information( do poor people attend foreclosure auctions and zoning board hearings?) and that elected officials could use the power to withhold legal notice advertisements to punish newspapers for unfavorable news coverage. The newspaper publishers said that their role as unbiased watchdogs would be compromised.
The assertion that newspapers fill the role of unbiased watchdogs is laughable. Yesterday’s Star Ledger editorial laying out a strategy for Democrats to counter Governor Christie’s effective Town Hall meetings, along with the paper’s slanted “news” coverage of Christie’s meetings eariler in the week is just one recent example of how “newspapers” are just as biased as this or any other blog.
But the publishers’ argument that allowing newspaper advertising and/or Internet advertising on governement websites of Legal Notices gives government officials the power to punish newspapers whose coverage they don’t approve of (or to reward newspapers for coverage they do approve of) has merit.
That potential for abuse could be fixed by amending the Electronic Publication Of Legal Notices Act to require that legal notices be published only on government websites. Reasonable fees for ads that are now paid to newspapers by planning and zoning applicants, foreclosing lenders and other private interests that are compelled to advertise could be collected by the municipalities to offset the cost of maintaining their websites and as a new source of much needed revenue.
The rest of New Jersey’s traditional media should embrace The Asbury Park Press’s outstanding reasoning, as it applies to the post office, and apply it to themselves in the interests of the public good. They should let Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver off the hook and suggest she post The Electronic Publication Of Legal Notices Act for a vote before the full Assembly where their friends in the chamber should amend the bill to prohibit governments from spending taxpayers dollars on legal notice advertising and eliminate the requirement that private interests pay to advertise anywhere other than on a government website.
Of course, the 1st amendment would allow the newspapers to continue publishing the notices, as a public service, or as a private sector revenue driven profit center.