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.