Editorial: Proposed legislation could kill newspapers

We  join a growing list of community newspapers from across the state in asking our readers to write letters and send emails opposing a bill in Sacramento which, if passed, could literally put many of us out of business.

Assembly Bill 642, authored by Anthony Rendon (D-Bell), proposes to permit the online publishing of public notices by allowing Internet-only entities to become “newspapers of general circulation.” Affected would be the publishing of notices of public meetings and bids, fictitious business statements, name changes, and trustee sales.

Rendon, a freshman member of the state Assembly, agreed to carry the legislation at the specific request of AOL (formerly known as America Online), which operates the Patch online local news sites. AOL wants the law changed so that it can steal the precious legal advertising dollars to help infuse new cash onto its struggling news model.

AB 642 is similar in scope to last year’s AB 1902, which died in the Assembly Judicial Committee. This new version has been assigned to the same committee for a yet-to-be-scheduled hearing. Here are a few of the many reasons it deserves the same fate:

• The criteria used to establish an Internet-only entity to be the official newspaper for a community is so weak it would allow any blogger or hobbyist with a laptop, tablet or smart phone to qualify.

• AB 642 requires no brick-and-mortar presence, no business office, and therefore, likely no local publisher, editors, local ad staff, no production or circulation staff. A single “regional editor” aggregating content from the worldwide Web and rewriting news created at great expense by real newspapers would qualify.

• The Internet is a seek-and-find technology. Newspapers are a “push technology” dependably pushing millions of printed, published and distributed public notices into millions of households and businesses every day. Put another way, AB 642 moves published and distributed public notices from a proven, reliable method of delivery to an uncertain, experimental system requiring the public to identify, seek and find public notices.

• Internet-only public notices are undependable, have no permanency; are subject to change; and susceptible to technological failure. Internet connections fail, servers crash, links die and websites are hacked.

• We find it improbable that an Internet-based “newspaper” can offer a level of service for the legal advertising dollar that includes filing a proof of publication with the court.

Our local Assembly member, Brian Maienschein, is a member of the Judiciary Committee and has emphatically stated his opposition to the bill. However, he is one of only three Republicans on the 10-member committee that is chaired by Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont).

If you care about the public’s right to know and the financial viability of newspapers such as this one, please take a few moments within the next week to write or email your opposition to AB 642. (A sample letter can be downloaded  here.) Send it to assemblymember.wieckowski@asm.ca.gov or mail to his capitol office at State Capitol Room 4016, Sacramento, CA 95814.

Short URL: http://www.pomeradonews.com/?p=34253

Posted by Steve Dreyer on Mar 27 2013. Filed under Editorial, Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

19 Comments for “Editorial: Proposed legislation could kill newspapers”

  1. Mark Moskow

    This is a great bill and we will be contacting our representative to support it. Seems unfair that newspapers can advocate for themselves on their editorial pages at the expense of hard working journalists who are publishing online news. There are several online news organizations already publishing legal notices FOR FREE. The local governments in the state of California could save over $30 million and so could those foreclosed on who have to pay to publish legal notices in newspapers.Sometimes it takes someone new to the system to come up with a better solution. Congratulations to Representative Rendon for doing so.

  2. Howard Owens Photography

    Local independent online news publishers work very hard day in and day out in California to bring the news of their communities. Why should print competitors receive an unfair government subsidy to compete against them?

    There are a dozen or more independent online news publications in California that are every bet as legitimate as the Pamarado News. This editorial is mostly scare tactics meant to defend an indefensible position.

    Repeated research shows that people don't read legal notices in printed newspapers, even less so now as more and more people abandon print for online. Online publication of legal notices makes the most sense because they're searchable, discoverable, easier to sort and categorize, sharable, and most importantly — contrary to the editorial — permanently achievable.

    Smart readers who support transparency in local government and a free market system of open competition will support the end of this unfair government subsidy of newspapers and ask their legislators to turn this matter over to the free market.

  3. ChrisCruse

    Might I suggest that cities establish online newspapers. That would save the cities (and thus, the taxpayers) a lot of money. A city could charge a modest sum for posting other legal notices in their "online newspaper". Seriously, I would like to see this law changed so that cities could post legal notices on their own websites on a "legal notices bulletin board". If the information was indexed and retrieveable, it would be easier to find and use than a print newspaper or an online newspaper.

  4. Guest

    Contrary to popular belief, there are people who do not use the Internet. What would happen to them if this bill were to pass? I know times are changing, but browsing through the legal notices, after you've read the local news and school and charity activities, much more likely than going to the Internet to look for public notices.

    • ChrisCruse

      What would happen to people who don't use the internet if they wanted to see public notices? Probably the same thing that happens right now to people who live in apartments in Poway where the local newspaper is not delivered. They ask a friend who has access to look for them. Or they go to the library and use a public computer. Or, possibly, the law should require written copies of the public notices to be available in a local library.

  5. ChrisCruse

    Another advantage to having cities post legal notices on a link from their website is that some of those legal notices are about legislation that the city council has passed, available EIRS, or upcoming council hearings. The links to the staff reports, the complete EIR and any new ordinances are also online at a city's website. Currently, the public notices in a newspaper tell folks to go to the city and look at the documents. An online public notice could contain a link to the complete document that the notice referred to. That is a much better way to get information to the public.

  6. Pascale

    Funny reading this screed via "an uncertain, experimental system" aka a website. Subsidies, in the form of public notices as advocated by the newspaper lobby and the editorial above only serve to keep unsustainable, old and ineffective businesses afloat. Competition is healthy.

  7. Joe St. Lucas

    Kind of funny that the editorial ends with statements of "d/l the form here, and email it to here…", neither of which you can easily do from a printed newspaper.

    However, I do not fault someone trying to save their job and the jobs of their coworkers.

  8. Kevin

    It's the quality of news and information to the community that will be affected. Microsoft had Sidewalks and AOL had it's local competitor but they were competing against themselves trying to become SD Internes paper. But, they had no commitment to the community only to profit. A local newspaper, not bloggers, that is a journalistice enterprise is important to the community. I want quality local coverage. The Patch has no real content. We benefit frim a strong local newspaper.

  9. Tom Yarnall

    I don't read the obituaries, don't care to know if a business is using a fictional name, don't care if somebody has changed their name and don't care about most all other public notices so why should I care where they are published?
    I know the notices are legally required, but think if they suddenly went away hardly anyone would notice.
    I do not read the hard copy of the Chieftain, but do visit the website frequently where the things I may be interested in are usually covered. It sure beats thumbing through the newspaper and takes up much less space on the breakfast table when using a lap top.
    Just think of how many trees will be saved as hard copy newspapers become less relevant.

    • Amy Roost

      Who knew you were a closet environmentalist, Tom?
      ;-)

      This debate reminds me of the debate in the publishing ndustry that's been taking place the past several years, i.e. will e-books marshall in the demise of the brick and mortar bookstore. So far the sky is falling more slowly than most predicted. But make no mistake, it is falling.

      • Joe St. Lucas

        I'm still waiting for the entire collapse of the movie industry as they (movie makers) predicted when the Sony Betamax first came out over 30 years ago.

      • Tom Yarnall

        Amy, no closet for me on this issue.I'm thinking if we could save those trees from going into newspapers the supply of lumber would increase, bringing down the price, making homes built on the hill side more affordable for one and all. Just thinking about the folks.
        Seriously, I said that about trees trying to get back on your good side.:-))
        Now, I do have some closet secrets, but I'm not going to reveal those. :-))

        • Kathy

          And the great state of California, in their infinite wisdom, has just added a 1.5% tax on lumber and all lumber products. Why? Who knows…because they can, I guess. So much for trying to make that house on the hill more affordable, but like the thought, Tom!

  10. Terry Daniels

    The telephone was supposed to kill off writing letters. Movies was supposed to kill off books and theater. Radio was supposed to kill off movies. Television was supposed to kill off radio. The internet is supposed to kill off everything – television, telephone, newspapers, radio. It never happened. It never will. Those industries adjusted, adapted their programming, found a way to optimize their delivery mechanism and they're still around. Many people like their content delivered in a newspaper. They like the touch and feel of handling it, the quick ability to scan it and find priority items and the portability of it. Just look at the subways, streets, and trash bins of New York city around 11:00 am any weekday. It's all about newspapers.

    I use this website but I also thumb through the hard copy version on the way to my fireplace where I store the paper to start fires in the winter or as for spray painting stuff, gluing, shining shoes, etc. It's also excellent for Windexing and wiping windows clean and the Pomerado News makes superior paper mache to any other paper. Can't do any of that with a computer.

    • Joe St. Lucas

      Don't forget using the newspaper to line the bottom of a birdcage! (But not YOUR newspaper, Steve, just the U-T!)

  11. Lydia

    I'd say it's a bit arrogant of most of the commenters to tell people what they could/should do: If you don't have a computer just go to the library – or ask a friend, etc. Some of us, maybe, can't get to the library, or can't use a computer – but we can still read! We can read a newspaper anytime convenient to us – but probably inconvenient to our friends.
    Maybe we are not so much interested in legal and other notices – just want to know what's happening. Oh yes, some of us don't have, or can get, TV either. How about that!
    Just maybe, some of you could use a reality check.

  12. ChrisCruse

    Lydia, if there are enough people who prefer to read a print newspaper and are willing to pay high enough subscription costs to keep the print newspaper profitable, it will survive. If other people prefer to read their news and public notices online, some business venture will pop up to serve their needs. That is not arrogance, it is simply how things work in a market economy.

  13. katherine

    This article has a misleading headline, to say the least. The bill will not kill newspapers if the newspapers will try to keep up with the technological times on their own. I plan to support this bill. Most individuals do not care about legal and other notices, and just want current events and news.

    Newspapers are much less relevant than they were, but it is because the newspapers are not doing enough to change with the times. That is why papers like the News Chieftan, etc. are losing money hand over fist. That, and mismanagement of funds and stubborn and sneaky CEO's.

    Take some responsibility for your own actions, newspaper world!

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