The News & Record on Wednesday, Oct. 4 blamed state Sen. Trudy Wade for just about everything except the flu pandemic of 1918 and Hurricane Hazel.
But that’s what happens when you mess with someone’s pocketbook, or in this case a newspaper’s state-mandated monopoly, which is exactly what the state is getting ready to do.
State Sen. Trudy Wade sponsored a bill that originally would have taken away the monopoly that paid circulation newspapers have on advertising required by state law, such as notices about public hearings and, by attorneys, for foreclosures, divorces and such. During the legislative session, the area the bill would affect was reduced to a pilot program for Guilford County, and that was passed by the legislature but vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper. In this session the bill is on the agenda to be introduced as a local bill and the governor cannot veto local bills.
The bill would allow Guilford County to establish a portion of its website for government required advertising and also make it legal to run ads in newspapers with a limited number of paid subscribers, like the Rhino Times.
The N&R doesn’t bother to explain why the state should require attorneys and governments to advertise in paid circulation newspapers like their own. The N&R does make the claim that more people see ads placed by the government and attorneys in paid circulation newspapers than might see them on government websites, but it states this without any evidence to support it.
According to the current law that the N&R believes is all important for the future of the state, those ads can legally be placed in the Jamestown News or the Carolina Peacemaker, and neither of those publications has a circulation that equals 1 percent of the population of Guilford County. How much circulation does the Jamestown News have in Greensboro, Guilford County’s largest city, or High Point, Summerfield, Oak Ridge, Gibsonville, Sedalia, Pleasant Garden, Whitsett or Stokesdale? Does anyone who doesn’t work for the N&R actually believe that an advertisement in the Jamestown News is more readily available to the population of Guilford County than an advertisement on the Guilford County website that can be accessed from anywhere.
What the N&R is upset about is not Wade, but money. The N&R receives a good amount of revenue from these advertisements because, by law, they must be placed in paid circulation newspapers. Reputable folks who are not simply trying to comply with the letter of the law spend the money to place the advertisement in the N&R or The High Point Enterprise, newspapers with some circulation outside of a tiny subset of the county.
Of course the N&R is mad. But it is unfair to solely blame Wade for a bill that has been supported by the North Carolina League of Municipalities and the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. If the only reason for the law is hate and revenge, then it does make you wonder what the N&R did to the League of Municipalities and the Association of County Commissioners. The Guilford County Board of Commissioners has also come out in support of the law because they think it will save the county money.
Wade’s bill was originally a statewide bill, but because so many paid circulation newspapers like the N&R went ballistic, it was reduced to a pilot project for four counties and then, finally, to a pilot project for Guilford County – Wade’s home county. It’s Wade’s bill; if the state is going to have a pilot project it makes sense for it to be her home county.
Most people will not notice the effects of the bill at all because most people don’t read the government ads about public hearings, rezoning requests and such. I’ve been to more rezoning hearings than I can count and I have never heard anyone say they found out about the hearing through an ad in the News & Record. Plenty of people say they found out from a neighbor, the sign on the property or from the letter sent out by the city, but the city is also required to run ads in a paid circulation newspaper like the News & Record, and they go largely unseen and unread.
There are people who do look for the notices placed by attorneys, such as for foreclosures, and those people should have no problem going to the Guilford County website to read them, or perhaps to some other newspaper like this one – because what the law actually does is open the advertising up to competition. It is worth noting that the law does not prohibit attorneys and governments from placing their ads in the N&R, but it does open the door up for competition. So what the editors at the N&R are really saying is that they want to keep their monopoly because it is a money cow and their aren’t many money cows left in the newspaper business.
If the N&R wants to keep those ads and believes that it is an important public service to continue to run them in a paid circulation newspaper, all it has to do is lower the rates below that of Guilford County and other competitors. There is no reason to think that the ads won’t go to the lowest bidder.