Opinion: End Corporate Welfare For Newspapers

By Art Gallagher


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New Jersey’s “legacy media” is so desperate to remain dependent on government subsidies in the form of mandated legal advertisements that their trade association, the New Jersey Press Association, offered to cut the advertising rates for taxpayer funded ads in half so long as they could increase the fees for legal ads paid for by private parties.

The newspaper industry was caught off guard earlier this week when legislation to allow New Jersey’s governments to publish meeting dates, proposed ordinances, zoning applications, sheriff sales, etc., online rather than in daily or weekly newspapers was introduced and fast tracked for approval before the end of the year.  Since then they papers been editorializing to rally their readers to put pressure on the legislature to scrap the bill and save their revenue.  Their arguments have been unseemly; Governor Chris Christie is pushing the bill as revenge on newspapers for their coverage of the Bridgegate scandal, that the elimination of legal ads would lead to less transparency and chicanery on the part of government officials who might not publish the ads as the law requires and that municipal and county governments publishing their own legal notices on the web won’t lead to savings.

Apparently the publishers fear that their campaign is not working.  Thus the hail mary proposal to cut their fees in half.  Members of the legislature should resist the emotional temptation spare the newspaper industry the inevitable migration to vital government information being accessed online rather than in print.  Our elected leaders and representatives should not fall for publishers’ plea to save journalists jobs with public dollars.  The management of New Jersey’s largest newspaper publisher, Gannett, did not make an emotional decision when they laid off 400 people after acquiring the Bergen Record/North Jersey Media.   They made an economic decision.  Our government leaders should make an economic decision for the benefit of their “shareholders” –the public.

In their current printed form, legal notices are more likely to be read by sad souls selling their jewelry or shopping for sexual favors than by citizens interested in attending a Planning Board Meeting or in buying a foreclosed property.  The usefulness of legal ads has already been supplanted by the Internet and social media.  Recent public opposition to proposed developments in Eatontown, Howell, Manalapan and Middletown is a testament to that fact. Citizens are getting their information online and sharing it with each other.

Printed classified ads are obsolete.  Newspapers publishers themselves are invested in online classifieds.  They use the empty space in their printed classified sections to encourage readers to visit their online classifieds websites like cars.com and careerbuilders.com.

The public will be better served by having legal notices available online.  As painful as it will be in the short term, the news industry will be better off in the long term by being independent of government subsidies.

One of the arguments the newspapers make against the bill is that municipalities and counties will incur more labor and technology costs to publish the ads.  The legislature should allow the governments to adjust their fees from private entities required to post ads in order to cover those costs.


Posted: December 15th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Legislature, Monmouth County News, New Jersey, News | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

4 Comments on “Opinion: End Corporate Welfare For Newspapers”

  1. Dan Jacobson said at 7:27 am on December 15th, 2016:

    Well said, Art.

    Reading the editorial commentary and the slated reporting by the papers of this state on this issue is a joke.

    Their hypocrisy is off the charts. They’ve railed against every other waste of taxpayers’ dollars, often smearing some decent public officials in the process while rightly calling out others who are slime, but when it comes to their own taxpayer-funded racket they use their power to try to strong-arm elected officials into preserving it.

    Their power is now significantly diminished that it shouldn’t make a difference. Now they look absurd. To claim that it’s better for government openness to have legal notices in newspapers versus the internet is a joke and they know it.

    Dan Jacobson

  2. A last gasp said at 10:13 am on December 15th, 2016:

    at an attempt to remain relevant. For years, several groups have tried to make the geniuses in Trenton realize no one reads the biased rags any more: agree with Dan, their hypocrisy is obvious. And the legislators, in their self- serving”wisdom,” would buy the reasoning that “not all business have a computer-” therefore, the fall- back of legal notices has to be the daily paper- silly now, since most people walk around with the Internet in their pockets and hands..we always believed the legislators were afraid they might not get those coveted”endorsements” of their editorial boards, that they could brag about and use in their literature, come election time. ( as if anyone cares about those, any more.) While this re- opening of the issue may be some kind of ” revenge” of the gov’s for nagging him about his questionable behaviors, it is still long overdue- since it appears we will never see most papers actually provide unbiased news any more, let’s save the entities, (therefore, the taxpayers,) a substantial amount of money and get rid of the newspaper ad requirement- the heck with them!

  3. Mike Harmon said at 11:04 am on December 15th, 2016:

    Several issues come to mind. Printed daily newspapers (often owned by big national companies who are out-of-touch with our communities) are now long obsolete and heading to extinction. Weeklies can still make it. If the idea is to put legal notices in the hands of the people interested such as planning board issues, budgets of towns and other required notices, electronic online newspapers are the perfect vehicle.

    Even NJ.com – with its increasingly despicable and out-of-touch editorial board could set up a drop down menu by county and towns. Look at what some large papers have done with obituaries turning them into large revenue stream while providing a service to the community.

    More local electronic papers would be even more suitable location for people to find the legal notices of their local communities. Often the local internet papers are the only ones discussing community issues like crime, development and schools.

    My family used to get four papers and I remember when recycling got started having these huge piles and stacks around, lugging them up the street, the papers getting wet and not picked up, bringing them to the recycling center. Nightmare.

    Now we get one paper (Barons) and do pick up the free weeklies like Monmouth Journal and TriCity. I read many of the local online papers.

    Although I don’t mind checking the local papers, I would love to see a larger Monmouth internet paper owned by locals and reported on by locals. Certainly, a revenue stream from local event ads, legal notices, obits etc could help.

  4. Mike Harmon said at 11:07 am on December 15th, 2016:

    One last point. Electronic newspapers can archive notices – while a person has to buy the paper on the right day to see a published notice.