Newspapers at the trough

Dear Members of the NC General Assembly.

I read at the Dome today that newspaper publishers (and editors!) have lobbied hard against a bill that would cut into their lucrative revenue streams from local government legal notices. Not only that, those crusty journalists appear to have been persuasive. Rep. Melanie Wade Goodwin, a Democrat, bought their happy horseshit, saying the bill would put newspapers out of business. That's terrible!

"I think we're going to shut down some of the local papers if we continue down this slope," she said.

With all due respect, and it ain't much, there's a lot of us out here who would like some of those public dollars, too. I know for a fact that thousands of BlueNC readers don't scour printed newspaper pages for legal notices every day, which means they are at risk of missing out on all the important proceedings going on in local governments. Surely you don't want us suffering from insufficient information syndrome, do you?

Besides that, our blog also runs the risk of being shut down if we don't find some magical new revenue. Do you really want to be responsible for continuing down that terrible slope as well?

Please file a new bill immediately that will require public legal notices to be posted on private blogs with the word "Blue" in their titles and whose readers do not subscribe to daily newspapers.

Your friend,

James the Blogger

PS We will be forming the Blue Lobbying Order of Bloggers (BLOB) and will be beating your doors down with our hands out. See you soon. Save some money for us.

Updated to take "ass" out of the opening salutation.


You have a good point but... weaken it with your mocking and name-calling. General "Ass?" Can't you make your point in an adult way?

I have never scoured the legal notices

They should be available for free through an RSS feed.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Still not much respect though....

Can't you respect the institution while criticizing some of the actions of individual members?

You are a good writer and make some good points, but you weaken them with your overly-aggressive style.

One man's opinion.

Respect for the institution?

You are correct, I increasingly find myself coming up short terms of respect for the General Assembly. That's not to say some of the individual members aren't excellent public servants, they are. But the body as a whole leaves a lot to be desired, in my jaded opinion. In particular, the collusion with business interests over public interests is maddening.

Thus, when a person whom I know to be thoughtful and progressive can take the floor and argue that it is the state's responsibility to keep newspapers in business, something has gone terribly wrong.

I know these folks mean well, but you know what they say about the road to hell.

Thanks for the feedback though. I am working every day to be a kinder, gentler blogger. Anyone who's been around here for a few years will attest to that, though I do have my moments of weakness.

I have to admit,

I'm against this also.

I understand that most people who read the paper couldn't give a rat's patoot about public hearings, and even the ones that are interested probably wouldn't attend the hearing anyway. But that's beside the point. Taking these notices out of the paper would mean that only a tiny fraction of the people would know the meetings were even taking place, which is a step in the wrong direction.

Only a tiny fraction already know

Newspaper legal notices solve a problem that doesn't exist. People who want to know about public hearings find out about them.

As a former city council member, I can tell you that no regular people pay one whit of attention.

That is a shame,

but removing these notices will ensure that regular people will never give a whit. You probably don't mean it that way, but it almost seems like you're giving up on them.

Not giving up on them

But also not willing to spend unnecessary dollars pushing a rope.

If newspapers are so hell-bent on wanting the public to know about meetings, maybe they should post all legal notices for free, on the front page of their papers. That would get the word out.

Of course it's just who I know, but

the only people I have ever heard talking about local government legal notices are people already in the loop who search out specific notices in the paper to critique their content and compliance with the statutes. Lawyers do this in court to try and get decisions overturned. Opponents of an issue try to delay hearings or "prove" cover-ups, conspiracies, etc. during public hearings.

They would be on a website

Fewer and fewer people are reading papers. More and more people get their information from the internet. In most communities, more people have internet access than read the local paper. Additionally, most local governments already have websites, which would make the posting of legal notices basically free.

Hmmm. Easier access to information and at a lower cost to taxpayers. Sounds like a winner to me.

I did a little exercise recently,

where I chose one of the top ten trafficked websites (Craig's List, I think), and calculated that only something like 2% of all Internet users went there each year. Then I looked at the circulation of newspapers in a few different local towns/cities like Apex and Chapel Hill, and 5%-9% of the population read the paper.

Even taking the giant leap that 2% of local Internet users would visit their municipal government's website (probably more like .003%), it is plain to me that the exposure of the information about public meetings will be much smaller if the papers don't carry it.

I know it seems like a waste of money, but I honestly believe we should increase the number of people who know (regardless of what they would do with the information), as opposed to cutting those numbers down.

It is about access

First, I doubt the 5%-9% who read the paper read the WHOLE paper, especially the legal notices.
Second, the 5-9% who read the paper are the only ones with access to the legal ads.

Over 80% of Americans have internet access. While percentages will certainly vary in different towns or counties, the fact remains that many more people use and read the internet than read newspapers. The use of newspapers as the legally-required media for legal postings is rapidly becoming as irrelevant reach-wise as using a Town Crier to make announcements.

Is there some chance that a newspaper reader may randomly/accidentally come across a legal notice even though they don't normally read them? Yes, of course. Most people reading legal notices are actively going to that page and reading them. They can do this in a newspaper or on a web page.

From purely a marketing standpoint, if the reason for requiring legal notices to be placed in newspapers is to ensure the public knows what is going on, the attempt is a very expensive failure. By your numbers, the ads are guaranteed to miss 90%+ of the population.

As James said, people who want to know can very easily find out what is going on. A website seems to be a perfectly reasonable, and perhaps better, substitute for newsprint.

If not free, at least

at a substantially discounted rate, anyway. And I do understand the issue with budgets, and how much money could be saved by this. Money that could go to something else.

But you know, they could also save money by not printing pamphlets/brochures that explain services and how to attain them, and just put that information on the website. Or get rid of some staff and just have a recorded message on the phone that says, "Go to our website." In the dissemination of information, efficiency doesn't always equate to "same result: less cost."

I don't know. I'm trying to step back and look at this from a slippery-slope perspective, seeing some future citizenry that is less-informed than it is now. And it bothers me.

So everybody has the internet now, James?

This appears to be one hell of a personal attack. Active users all know of your personal subscription issues with some larger papers, but a Representative takes a stand to not only protect public information but to also help out small town newspapers, and you call her an ass?

I support Rep. Goodwin not only in her attempt to keep citizens from ALL walks of life informed, but also in standing up for the already struggling local papers.

Don't put words in my mouth

1. No one said everyone has the internet, besides you of course.

2. I subscribe to the print editions of three newspapers and seven magazines.

3. I didn't call anyone an ass, though you're tempting me.

4. If losing their state-mandated monopoly for paid legal notices is enough of a blow to drive some newspapers under, they deserve to go under.

You're entitled to whatever opinion you want to hold. As am I. And it's my opinion that this has nothing to do with keeping citizens from ALL walks of life informed. This is a move to subsidize newspapers, pure and simple.