Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Pee Dee Post Editorial on Public Notice Issue Continues To Evolve

HAT TIP: THE PEE DEE POST and permission granted to repost this editorial in regards to Public Notice laws in the State of North Carolina

Our Turn: Public notice issue continues to evolve

A editorial

The Richmond County Daily Journal lauded Sen. Tom McInnis in its weekend edition for signing on to co-sponsor SB 129.
And no wonder, as traditional print newspapers like the Daily Journal — and not the public — will benefit most. How? Senate Bill 129 protects traditional print newspapers’ monopoly on where public notices are legally required to be published.

The bill, as drafted, would place a cap on what print newspapers could charge for second-run legal ads and mandate that such legally required public notice advertisements be placed online for free. If the newspaper in question doesn’t have a website, then the ad would be placed on the North Carolina Press Association website. Even papers like the Daily Journal acknowledge readers don’t flock to local government websites; in all likelihood, the general public traffic to the NCPA site is even lower.

For far too long, newspaper associations have successfully lobbied lawmakers for what amounts to hefty government subsidies — read: your taxpayer dollars — in order to make ends meet. The compromise that Sen. Norman Sanderson has drafted would save taxpayer precious little money but continues to reinforce traditional print newspapers’ unconstitutional expectation of a free lunch.
In this fiscal year that ends June 30 alone, Richmond County and the city of Rockingham governments will spend nearly $57,000 in legal advertising with the Daily Journal — every penny of that required by law. The Pee Dee Post could offer a better service (read: higher visibility and increased readership) for a much better price — less than half that, in fact. But if local governments want to place those legal notices on, someone has to approve spending even more of your hard-earned dollars. Local officials have no good choice.
It’s time the law that requires  seldom-read, back-page buried, black-and-white notices that offer readers no engagement (and barely a font that can be read without a magnifying glass) catches up with technology.

A true compromise would change SB 129 to enabling legislation to allow local governments in jurisdiction which enjoy digital-only newspapers the option of choosing to place legal ads in either the traditional print newspaper or the digital newspaper. This would have the effect of:

* Forcing all newspapers, in print and digital, to offer a competitive rate;

* Give the local governments the ability to choose where they get the most bang for (your) buck; and

* Save taxpayers a whole lot of money

One thing neither the NC Press Association nor any publisher of traditional print newspapers want to dwell on is the declining number of paid subscribers. With few rare exceptions across America, the number of people paying to read the print newspaper is on the decline. So forcing governments to spend your money on that is nothing more than legacy media grasping at a final chance to hang on. Well let’s make one thing clear: The news is not only for the elite, not only for people who generally forget they have a print newspaper delivered to their frontyard flower bush until it’s time to dig it out each morning.

It’s time for the law to consider new media, such as digital newspapers like The Pee Dee Post, Bladen Online, and  and give them the attention they deserve. Unlike traditional print newspapers in their corresponding communities, these on-the-rise digital media outlets offer more affordable rates, top-notch reader engagement and by and large a much wider audience. Each has become an information platform with which, simply put, their traditional-print counterparts can not keep up.

If the effort is to increase public awareness of the issue of individual legal notices, SB 129 isn’t the answer. Even McInnis knows that. He told The Pee Dee Post on Friday that SB 129 will do … “for now.”

“I support Senate Bill 129 because it gives a starting point to allow local newspapers to publish legal notices on line in addition to printed version,” McInnis said.” This is a compromise to several requests to go digital only for such notices.  I hope that this will be a start to legal notices being published not only in local newspapers but also in a digital format which will create savings for local tax payers.”

Laura Nakoneczny, NCPA member services director, told The Pee Dee Post that its charge is not to look out for readers.

“The bottom line is that NCPA remains primarily a newspaper organization — dedicated to the needs of the ‘print’ press,” Nakoneczny wrote to the Post. “We don’t claim to be an organization that represents all news media, and we only pursue the legislative agenda and other interests of (print) newspapers.”

Well, thank you, Ms. Nakoneczny, for your honesty. Truly.

SB 129 is not the right choice for you, for Richmond County or for North Carolina. It’ll likely get through the General Assembly, but stay tuned. There’s much work to be done. We look forward to working with lawmakers across NC to truly serve the public.

Each editorial is an opinion piece that aims to serve the greater good. It’s message does not necessarily reflect the opinion of any individual who works with The Pee Dee Post.

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