Two proposed bills could damage the future of community newspapers
But it could happen. A proposed bill in California would permit the online publishing of public notices by allowing online-only outlets to become newspapers of general circulation. This would include notices of public meetings, bids, fictitious business statements, name changes and trustee sales. “We depend on the advertising, and it’s way down. It’s hard enough to just keep afloat without losing some of our revenue in legals,” Villec said. The small newspaper is published three times a week and covers all of Solano County – which is one of the nine official San Francisco Bay counties – but does not yet have a website.
Publications that stand to profit from the bill include Patch.com, whose parent company AOL is sponsoring the bill. Unfortunately for the Dixon Tribune, if the bill were to pass, there is a Dixon Patch nearby. Dennis Evanosky, executive editor of the Alameda Sun in Alameda, Calif., noted his community also publishes a local Patch.com site.
Although the Alameda Sun has yet to be adjudicated to post legal ads, Evanosky said he is currently going through the court process. So far, he has calculated the paper stands to gain $15,000 in revenue once they get the okay. But if the bill, known as AB 642, passed, it would put a damper on the incoming funds.
“Regardless of what some claim – and what might be falsely claimed in this bill – readers do turn to the print media for their news. Not everyone is digitally inclined. In fact, many are digitally challenged. The latter group would never see the ads if they run online,” said Evanosky. Although the paper has a website at AlamedaSun.com, he noted that most of the paper’s readers in the area turn to the weekly print edition for local news.
Only a state away in Arizona, a bill in a similar vein was up for passage recently that would allow local governments to post public notices online. It failed, however, to get a Senate committee hearing by March 21. According to AZFamily.com, the bill was held because appropriations committee chairman Sen. Don Shooter, a Republican from Yuma, said it would damage newspapers. Although the bill didn’t make the hearing this year, Republican Rep. David Stevens of Sierra Vista, who is the primary engineer behind the bill, noted “there’s always next year.”
Donovan Kramer Jr., co-publisher and managing editor of Casa Grande Valley Newspapers in Casa Grande, Ariz., said that newspapers already have an online site for public notices called PublicNoticeAds.com, where they get posted for no additional charge. “This site serves Arizona and some other states. If the cities and various entities were allowed to use just their own sites, some of them would not be very accessible because they’re all designed differently, and some are not very user friendly. Putting more online responsibilities on the state and various entities would add costs for taxpayers. Having newspapers involved adds a third party to prevent manipulation of dates, etcetera, when things are published,” he said in an email interview.
Back in California, LosCerritosNews.net reported the Assembly Judiciary Committee has not yet set a hearing date for AB 642 bill, but that it will likely be heard at the committees’ May 7 meeting. According to the report, the bill not only stands to drain newspapers of much-needed revenue, but the language of the bill is so weak it would allow bloggers, aggregators and “hobbyists” to be considered an official community newspaper.
In an increasingly online world, it’s no wonder community newspapers would be concerned. The California Federation of Labor, however, is fighting the bill. “We hope the bill fails, of course,” said Evanosky. “Apathy will play a large role in its passage. We do feel that without lobbying from the print media the bill could pass.”
–Katrina M. Mendolera
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