In 2018, a lawsuit brought by the News & Record, as well as some other newspapers, against Guilford County made big news across the state.
At that time, Guilford County, in keeping with legislation passed by the NC General Assembly, began moving toward a system by which legally required notice for things like public meetings, rezoning hearings, outstanding tax notices and more would be posted electronically at the county’s website – rather than in newspapers, as had been the practice for decades. Before the new legislation was passed, state law required such advertisements be placed in a newspaper of general circulation with paid subscribers.
The News & Record, which stood to lose a very lucrative revenue stream from local government notices and legal notices, hit back with a lawsuit. That legal challenge against the county dragged on for years. However, this week, Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne stated that the newspaper and its partners in the lawsuit had dropped the suit earlier this year.
“The plaintiffs filed a voluntary dismissal of the matter back in February 2021,” Payne wrote in an email to the Rhino Times after being asked for an update on the case.
This ends the case that garnered a great deal of news statewide at first but then quietly fizzled out.
In April of 2018, the Rhino Times reported that attorneys representing the News & Record and other newspapers in Guilford County had informed the county’s legal department that the newspaper, along with other publications, was suing the county and the State of North Carolina over the then-new practice of posting legally required public notices on the county’s website rather than in paid subscription newspapers, as was required by law in the past.
Newspapers such as the News & Record – which for years and years enjoyed a very lucrative revenue stream from publishing those notices – fought the move very hard. They fought it politically at the state level – and at the county level after the North Carolina General Assembly modified state law to allow Guilford County, as part of a pilot program, to meet its public notice requirements by posting the notices on the county’s website rather than in a newspaper.
After a political battle at the state level, the State of North Carolina approved the legislation that allowed Guilford County the right to stop running notices of meetings, foreclosures, tax liens, rezoning cases and other events requiring public notice in paid circulation newspapers – as long as the Guilford County Board of Commissioners approved the move. The commissioners did vote to allow it. At that meeting, several representatives of local newspapers spoke against the change.
The big financial blow to the News & Record and other newspapers wasn’t so much the loss of the county’s notice business, but the loss of other revenue. Guilford County has been transitioning to a more comprehensive practice of running public notices for cities and towns within Guilford County, as well as for private entities such as attorneys and others who are legally required to post notices in various situations.