As a news outlet, we must recognize the open hostility and disdain shown by state Sen. Trudy Wade (R-Guilford) in her strike against our industry, as embodied in her bill, SB 343, which languishes in the finance committee, having passed the Senate and its first reading in the House, awaiting ratification and the governor’s signature to become law.
It’s designed to hurt newspapers — specifically Guilford County newspapers, as Guilford is the only county in the state this bill would affect — by stripping a requirement that legal notices be published in paid-circulation newspapers and allowing for a county website to handle the task.
John Owensby, publisher of the Kernersville News, told the Winston-Salem Journal that his community weekly would not survive without the $250,000 a year in government legal notices he currently bills.[pullquote]It’s designed to hurt newspapers — specifically Guilford County newspapers, as Guilford is the only county in the state this bill would affect.[/pullquote]
The real victims are the dailies — the News & Record and the High Point Enterprise, which have been covering Wade going back to her days on the Guilford County Commission and Greensboro City Council. The lost revenue stream delivers a solid blow to their bottom lines.
Proponents of the bill say that government spending is propping up the industry with what amounts to a subsidy.
Our own opinion is… nuanced.
By current North Carolina law, Triad City Beat is ineligible for legal notices: Our paper is free, an automatic disqualifier. From where we’re sitting, the guaranteed cash stream does seem to give an undue advantage to our competitors, going by Owensby’s estimate.
And the fact is, the haters have a point: Traditional newspapers don’t have the penetration they once did, and even they post everything they do online, just like everybody else. Fears that the county might bury these notices deep in their labyrinthine website fall to the realization that within minutes of the creation of the page, it will be indexed by search engines and accessible to digital-savvy citizens within hours. There are no secrets on the internet. And everyone who relies on the foreclosure notices, auction dates and other government information for their livelihood will adapt.
The long game is more troubling. Our society relies on reporters — the more the better — and the outlets that publish the kind of news that someone, somewhere, does not want to be printed. Lost revenues at the dailies certainly means fewer notebooks and cameras out on the streets. And for that, everyone — everyone in Guilford County anyway — will suffer.