Bill Is Back To Strip Newspapers Of Legal Ads


You won’t see this Senate bill touted on the editorial pages.

State Sen. Charlie Dean has filed a bill that would rob newspapers of a lucrative source of  revenue—-government legal ads.  Senate Bill 376 would allow governments to advertise their legal notices on their own websites.

As if newspapers didn’t have enough financial problems!

The bill died last year in committee.

This year it might have a better chance because everybody is looking for ways to save money and the sponsor is a Republican Senate leader.  Representing a portion of the Big Bend from Leon to Marion Counties, Dean is the Republican whip.

Despite heavy opposition from publishers, the bill would save taxpayers across the state millions.

As newspaper circulation plunges, it makes less sense to confine legal ads to print. I have a coffee cup proudly presented to the Sun-Sentinel staff in February 1997.  It is emblazoned with the news that the paper was selling 420,000 copies every Sunday.

The Sun-Sentinel today sells 239,200 copies on Sunday and 153,563 daily.  Both figures include some circulation in Palm Beach County. 

When I started with the Sun-Sentinel in the early 1970s, the circulation of that paper and its bigger sister, the Fort Lauderdale News, was 147,000 daily.  Hardly anybody lived west of University Drive and Weston didn’t exist at all.

Today the Sun-Sentinel  (which merged with the News) sells about only 6,500 more copies than the two papers did in the 1970s, although the population has more than doubled and print competition like the Hollywood Sun-Tattler folded.

That Sun-Sentinel daily circulation is less than 10 percent of the population in Broward and south Palm Beach County.

How much longer can newspapers make the argument that government legal ads should be confined within their pages?

Here is the bill title:


S376     GENERAL BILL by Dean
  Required Advertisements and Public Notices; Authorizes a governmental
  entity to use its publicly accessible website for legally required
  advertisements and public notices. Provides that a notice,
  advertisement, or publication on a publicly accessible website in
  accordance with specified provision constitutes legal notice. Provides
  for notice of special election or referendum on a publicly accessible
  website, etc.  EFFECTIVE DATE: 10/01/2010.
  10/09/09 SENATE Filed

11 Responses to “Bill Is Back To Strip Newspapers Of Legal Ads”

  1. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz says:

    Buddy, Love the site. Lots of good stuff. But this story seems to be giving everyone a case of the snores.

    I read my Sentinel every day — have done so for probably 25 years. But for the fact that they don’t post the comics online, I’d probably be giving it up now too.


  2. My Name Is Earl says:

    Sad that newspapers have to rely on government incompetency to make money. Does anyone in the world read those public notices. I cancelled my Sun Sentinel subscription when the paper dummed down a couple of years back. Sun Sentinel must have been particularly desperate for subscribers as they called my home nearly every night for a month. I finally decided that getting the SS on a weekend might be enjoyable but after the first weekend it wasnt delivered – so again I wont be renewing.

    FROM BUDDY: You’ll find that some folks do read the public notices. For instance, parents worried about school boundaries see the advertising the School Board places. Vendors religiously look at the notices involving purchases. Etc. Etc.

  3. Stanton Poole says:

    The decline of newspapers is a terrible thing because I don’t see anybody replacing them in the near future. That doesn’t mean I believe government should subsidize them. The public notices belong online.

  4. Resident says:

    Public notices in the newspaper are a waste of taxpayer dollars. When studies are showing more people get their news from the internet than from newspapers, why would the government insist that the public pay for notices in an inefficient system.

    I could see special notices, like for the budget and for elections, but for ordinances, and bids, its a waste. Otherwise, it is better and cheaper on the web.

  5. Sam Fields says:

    I subscribe to about 10 periodicals. Newspapers are critical to democracy and keeping the government straight.

    Nevertheless they aren’t entitled to an exclusive for legal notices.

    But all is not lost. The solution to declining revenues comes from…shudder…Rupert Murdoch who has told Google they may no longer repeat content from his paper press, including the NY Post and the Wall Street Journal,—unless they pay for it.

    The AP. New York Times, the Wash Post and the rest of the print press should follow suit.

    If the Sun-Sentinel has to pay to reprint their stories why shouldn’t Google, AOL, Yahoo, etc?

    Further the Sun-Sentinel and the Herald should start charging for their original stories.

    Google can’t reprint copyrighted books w/o paying for them. It can’t put CD’s or DVD’s online w/o paying for them. Why should they be able to publish the Wall Street Journal for nothing?

    Murdoch owns big national newspapers with a potential audience of hundreds of millions of readers. If only a fraction of these potential readers pay, he is successful.
    Murdoch also spends a lot of money for unique coverage.
    The Wall Street Journal has a built in audience of Wall Street types who must have the paper and charge its cost as a business expense.
    The local papers — the Sun-Sentinel and The Herald — have fewer potential readers. How many customers would really pay to read most of what is on their Internet sites? Even at five cents per article.
    Even Sam would only read a select number of the articles.
    Sam, care to give us a list of those 10 periodicals you read regularly?

  6. Concerned says:

    This is not about supporting $ for the papers, this is about informing the public and reaching even those that can’t afford a computer. There are too many efforts to ‘save money’ that impact your right to know what your government is doing.

    FROM BUDDY: Good point.

  7. @Sam says:

    Sam – good point, but there’s a slippery slope there.

    If I run a blog and reprint (and give credit to) a newspaper for a story that they are distributing publicly for FREE on the internet, should I be required to pay for it?

    What about if I just have a blurb on the story and a link to the Sentinel page?

    The WSJ and NY Times I think may be different because they have an online subscription model where viewers pay to read the content, so it’s not just publicly available for free.

    But until such time as the Sentinel decides to charge for their content, I don’t know why Google, Yahoo, et al., shouldn’t be allowed to reprint the news (for which they don’t charge viewers) as fair use.

  8. Richard J. Kaplan says:

    Dear Concerned,

    More people find out about a matter by the posted sign, concerned residents that call other residents, and notices mailed than any notice in the paper. Rarely do I find anyone showing up to a meeting because of a notice in the newspaper, though the city spends thousands each year on these ads. At least we would probably reach more by putting it on the internet then in the newspapers.

    Even bids and request for proposals often come from sending notices to vendors registered on our web site.

    We are just trying to do the best we can and give notices to the public and vendors the best way we can, without wasting precious tax dollars.

  9. Concerned says:

    Dear Richard,

    to an extent I do agree but there has to be a well known, centralized location that is accessible to all that contains these notices. It is presumptuous to assume poorer folks have to go to the public library to access the internet. We cannot disregard this segment of the population. It is a demographic that many local government policies affect most.

  10. Commissioner Angelo Castillo says:

    Dear Friends:

    Had a free moment and decided to check in on my blog friends to see how folks are doing.

    This is timely issue as we find ourselves straddling two timezones when it comes to news and newspapers. One is the old fashioned newspaper era, which I will dearly miss should it ever completely disappear. The other is the growing new wave of on-line news.

    We are using both right now and the momentum is clearly moving toward on-line. For better or worse, that is the apparent direction of things to come.

    Five or ten years ago it wouldn’t even occur to folks that we should stop printing government postings in newspapers. Now, things are changing. This is the second or third time we see this bill come along. Inevitably it will pass. That day will come.

    But not yet.

    When straddling change, it’s important not abandon where you’ve been until your weight shifts comfortably toward where you’re going. That has not yet fully occurred in our society when it comes to print versus on-line news. But we are rapidly getting there. Until get there, this bill is not ready for prime time.

    Let me take a moment to wish you all Happy Holidays and all the best for a fantastic New Year. May it be much better for us all in 2010 than it was in 2009.


  11. Richard J. Kaplan says:

    Dear Concerned,

    You are presuming that “poorer folks” who can’t afford the internet and have to go to the library to see it, can afford to purchase the paper. From what we can see, we don’t see these same “folks” reading the paper that much either. They appear to get most of their news from TV and radio, where we don’t post notices.

    As to getting out the message, written notices to their house and signs posted in the neighborhood have proven to be far more effective and cheaper too. Also the resident neither has to have the internet nor purchase a paper.

    I am not saying that no one gets their legal notices from the paper. What I am saying is that the very high taxpayer cost does not justify the very low response you get from it, and that we could do a better job at a lower cost by other more effective means.

    By the way, though not be considered, the most centralized place is actually where you pay your water bill at City Hall. We could easily hand this information out at that site and reach far more people.