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Saturday, December 31, 2016

End newspaper subsidies

The practice of posting legal notices in newspapers has been a billion-dollar boondoggle for newspapers since the 19th century.

Chris Christie wants to end it in New Jersey.

From the Associated Press:
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- As classified advertising, once the lifeblood of newspapers, has dried up, one constant has remained: a thick daily listing of government public notices. But legislative fights have put that at risk.
A measure to allow government agencies in New Jersey to no longer publish their legal notices in newspapers recently stalled, but Republican Gov. Chris Christie said he will make the change a priority in 2017. And Democratic leaders in the Legislature aren't backing down from having the debate, either.
Christie says the change would save taxpayers and residents $80 million, but the state's newspapers dispute that math. They say that the state spends $20 million on legal notice advertising each year and that more than half is reimbursed by private business. Christie's figures also apparently include an estimate that $60 million will be spent on public notices of pending foreclosures, a fee paid for by banks.
It's not only an issue in New Jersey. State lawmakers nationwide have considered ending the requirement to publish notices for things like public meetings and government bids, but lobbying efforts from publishers have stopped that so far. But as the audience for printed newspapers continues to dwindle, some think it's only a matter of time.
Newspaper circulation is under 50 million in a nation of 320 million.

Rare is the citizen who actually reads these legal notices.

From the Associated Press:
"You don't want to put the fox in charge of the hen house," said Robert Ambrogi, of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association. "The main reason legal notices are published is to ensure government transparency and government accountability. In order to have that process done in a neutral and objective way, it needs to be managed and overseen by a third party."
If this is so vital and information people need, why don't the newspapers publish it gratis?

@@@

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It covers the nomination process only. The general election will be covered in a sequel.

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18 comments:

  1. I'm one of the 50 million. But only because the wife likes to read the obituaries & court news with her morning coffee. Me? I scan the comics, read a few of 'em & I'm done with it.

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  2. Post the notices on the internet.

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    1. I'm confident that Craigslist is ready to do the job gratis.

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  3. If the alternative is for the government to post legal notices in just one place on-line that is easily accessible and made widely known to the public, not in a dozen different obscure locations on the Web, I could go along with that. The great benefit of going digital is that the notices would become searchable, something that cannot be done with notices that appear in print in the daily newspapers. Abstract services that perform searches of newspaper listings for third parties might object, but theirs is a service that computer technology has obsoleted.

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    1. Illinois posts legals online, searchable. But as far as I know they don't push the notices through email feeds - something that would be valuable for public notice. I would subscribe to local/regional legal notices. Otherwise, keep the newspapers, which don't require going regularly to a website.

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  4. It is a boon for lawyers also. Not in money - but in aggravation. Look, there is a piece of property, real property, to which the title is not solid. That is not unusual in America. So a suit to quiet title is filed and the notice of the suit is published. Come on in, get involved in the suit or the court will quiet the title and extinguish all claims onto that land so that it can be transferred cleanly.

    Published notice of lawsuits is useful for everyone. Not just in real property disputes either.

    -Mikey NTH

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  5. "Thou shalt not cut down trees for paper, but leftist government notices beith okay, so knock thyself out."

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  6. I expect this will pass handily in 2017; the problem the first time around was tying it to an ethics 'bypass' so Christie could do a book deal while still in office.

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  7. I have fallen victim to this boondoggle. One year I went in to pay my personal property taxes at the Putnam County Courthouse so I could renew my truck license. Upon asking how much I owed I was hit with an unreasonably higher than usual amount. I asked why and was told that I was delinquent so I had to pay a penalty as well as the cost of publishing a notice to said effect. I asked where it was published and was told "The Hurricane Breeze." I said that I live on the other side of the county and had never even heard of the newspaper, let alone subscribe. No matter, pay up. I asked why they didn't just call me up or send me a letter in the mail. It would have been a lot cheaper and quicker. Crickets chirping, accompanied by dumb looks. Pay up, sucka!

    P.S. - ALWAYS look closely at your real estate tax statement. They can legally raise it up to 9.9 per cent per year without notifying you. They have tried to pull this trick on me several times.

    - Elric

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    1. "They can legally raise it up to 9.9 per cent per year without notifying you."--Anonymous Coward

      Not in California. Thank you, my fellow Prop. 13 voters!

      Still, scrutinize every document the government sends. They're government bureaucrats, they don't care about how much hassle their clumsiness causes you.

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  8. Government transparency is critical. Newspapers have failed at providing that, so they have no claim to be the clearinghouse for publishing those notices.

    And on the internet they won't cost NJ or any other state $80MM a year ... so as consumers and taxpayers we will reap some savings too.

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  9. I am sick of government treatin us like children and telling us what to do. End all government advertising on TV and radio except for recruiting ads for the military.

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  10. Take away sports from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and all you have left is kitty litter.

    The comics are the weekly rantings of a crew of corpulent scribes who call themselves editors.

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  11. I only pay for one internet publishing service. Comics.com. Considerably less expensive then a daily newspaper purchase, a greater selection, and the money presumably is shared with the cartoonists. And if you don't want to pay, put up with the ads on the site.

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  12. "If this is so vital and information people need, why don't the newspapers publish it gratis?"

    You know what I did for a living prior to my retirement, Don, Village Administrator for a small town in Ohio. I made your same point about gratis over at Insty's place. The Ohio Municipal League has been trying to get the law amended for years to allow Internet publication of legal notices. The legislature caved to pressure from the publishers, but it is only a matter of time. The current law cost millions of taxpayer dollars and the notices are just filler that nobody reads.

    Our local rag under a previous generation was a good small town paper. The owner/editor/publisher was a gentleman and a scholar of the old school. He was not about to cover up anything illegal but neither did he go out of his way to unnecessarily hurt people and institutions with deceptive muck raking tactics. His son who took over is a twerp who likes to stir up fights just to sell papers, and the current management is worse. If they went away today it would just mean bird owners would have to use paper bags instead.

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  13. read the paper? gave it up years ago as I don't own a bird

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  14. Even worse, in WI the newspaper that prints official notices must be paid circulation so the free ad supported papers that every address gets cannot even bid to be named the official paper. So you have to pay to be able to read the public notices and less than 15% of households subscribe.

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  15. Don, I understand your contempt for corporate news media -- national journalism is broken. But, please differentiate between national, regional and locally-owned newspapers. Our state legislature hasn’t raised our local legal rates for 25 years, and even then they were low. Putting the government in charge of public notices on a website removes them from where a community expects to see local news and makes them susceptible to modification. Journalism is an accolade that must be earned fresh each day, and some of us earn it -- even vetting wire service news.

    [I made the mistake of trying to explain this on Insty’s pointer to you, but the commenters seem more interested in confirming what they believe rather than gainint new and useful knowledge.]

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