On the surface, it seems an awful lot like someone is out to get Guilford County newspapers, but it didn’t start that way.
The first draft of Sen. Trudy Wade’s bill would have eliminated a requirement that every county and municipal government in the state post its public notices —bankruptcies, public auctions and that sort of thing — in paid-circulation newspapers in lieu of posting on the county website.
After cries of outrage from newspaper owners and their lobbyists, the law was retooled to exempt 99 of the state’s 100 counties from the law. It sounds ridiculous, which is probably why Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed it.
But thanks to a neat piece of political gamesmanship, the subsidy for Guilford County newspapers is no more.
To achieve this, legislators zeroed in on SB 181, a local bill that initially created a pathway for independent candidates to run in Forsyth County partisan elections. By the time SB 181 became law, all references to Forsyth County had been removed, replaced with the language of the Senate bill Cooper had previously vetoed.
Because local bills are exempt from the governor’s veto pen, the bill became law on Oct. 5, effective Dec. 1.
It’s inevitable, of course, that newspapers lose this crucial revenue stream after years — decades, really — of similar losses in classified ads, personal ads, real estate listings and so forth. It’s all part of the Great Unbundling of American newspapers, stripped down to bleached bones.
And this subsidy which amounted more than $1 million — the publisher of the Kernersville News admitted that legal notices contributed about $250,000 to his bottom line each year — may have been a boon to journalism in general, but not for everybody. Free papers like Triad City Beat never qualified for this handout, giving our competition an unfair advantage in the market.
So while it’s a shame to see local journalism take such a hard hit, it must be acknowledged that some of the papers on this gravy train do not actually practice journalism, loading their pages with press releases and large, grainy photos instead of the sort of work for which the First Amendment is written.
And we remind them that nobody is guaranteed a profitable business model for life.