Spradlin: A misguided attempt at transparency

80 percent of North Carolinians have Internet access
Legacy newspapers lead attack on government transparency

I almost thought the Richmond County Daily Journal had seen the light. Nope. The light’s still out. At this point, I’m not even sure if anyone there can find the light switch.

Let me explain. This isn’t about character or personal relationships. This is completely and only about two things: A government body’s ability to choose and save money, and the public’s access to government information.

In an editorial published online Sunday and shared on Facebook, the Daily Journal writes about Sunshine Week, “a nationwide initiative to promote and advance the cause of open government.” The week is celebrated this year from March 15 to March 21.

The editorial, presumably written by Content Manager Corey Friedman, is meant to represent the Daily Journal and, just as likely, the views of parent company Civitas Media. Friedman gets it right with this statement:

sunshine_week_logo“Transparency is under attack in North Carolina.”

On this point, the editor is absolutely right. What he doesn’t reveal, however, is that the attack is being led by the very type of newspaper for which he toils.

I’ll use the issue of legally required public notices as an example. The Pee Dee Post wrote an editorial on the issue on March 7. There, it blasted the Daily Journal‘s position that Senate Bill 129 is anything but bad. Here’s why: SB 129 protects nobody but the legacy media and the attorneys who wrote it.

SB 129, filed by Sen. Norman Sanderson and crossfiled in the House by Rep. Marilyn Avila, continues the mandate that legally required public notices must be published in the local print newspaper. It’s an antiquated law — written some 70-plus years ago — that fails on a ridiculous level to take into consideration how people today consume news and information.

There are a couple of problems here. First, newspapers like the Daily Journal aren’t local — they’re owned by media corporations and controlled by people who likely have never stepped foot in Richmond County. Further, policies for “your local newspaper” are made in far-off places such as Dayton, Ohio and Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

New media outlets such as The Pee Dee PostBladen OnlineAberdeenTimes.com and DavidsonNews.net  are owned and operated by people who live in the communities (a reasonable commute is taken into consideration, of course – I’m not trying to tell people where they should live).

Second, SB 129 doesn’t take into consideration the ever-declining number of paid subscriptions to legacy media that plague newspapers like the Daily Journal. Meanwhile, in his editorial, Friedman acknowledges that “one in five North Carolina residents (are) without home Internet access.”

The flipside, of course, is that 80 percent of residents do have reliable access to the Internet. And you can bet your bottom dollar that 80 percent of any jurisdiction does not subscribe to the corporate-controlled newspaper of record. What’s more, visit your local library and you’re lucky to find one copy of an intact newspaper. But one can easily find several computer stations by which users can access whatever information they seek.

“Why,” Friedman asks, “make important information so hard to find?”

Exactly! If newspapers’ intent is to keep public notices on the front burner, then why not put them on the front page? They are buried in newspapers like the Daily Journal — hard to find, tiny print — but legal notices are published on the home page at PeeDeePost.com — the most visited section of PeeDeePost.com. Already, municipalities such as Hamlet and Ellerbe already are publishing legal notices on PeeDeePost.com even though they are not legally required to do so. Why?

“You have the readers,” said one elected official of The Pee Dee Post and its monthly average of 40,094 unique visitors in a county with a population of about 46,000 people.

Officials in Hamlet and Ellerbe have paid much less on PeeDeePost.com than in the Daily Journal, but let’s use another example — perhaps the best one. Of the $50,000 that Richmond County government will spend with the Daily Journal this fiscal year, nearly 60 percent of it — roughly $30,000 — will come in one fell swoop with the publication of tax delinquency notices. That’s for only one day of publication.

If the ad is prepared by county staff, The Pee Dee Post could publish that same ad for $185 for seven days — or only $26.42 for a single day. The PDP, readers, isn’t looking for a government handout. That would transfer the burden of taxpayers from legacy media to new media. The goal here is to save you money. A lot of it. With today’s news media, there’s a better way of disseminating information and legacy media is not it.

What elected official or public servant charged with minding the store that is taxpayer dollars would not choose saving more than $29,800 in a single publication of legal notices? The answer is simple: Sanderson and Avila, along with anyone else funded in whole or in part by the North Carolina Press Association.

A true compromise would change SB 129 to enabling legislation to allow local governments in jurisdiction which enjoy digital-only newspapers the option of choosing to place legal ads in either the traditional print newspaper or the digital newspaper. This would have the effect of:

* Forcing all newspapers, in print and digital, to offer a competitive rate;

* Supporting locally owned and operated businesses;

* Give the local governments the ability to choose where they get the most bang for (your) buck; and

* Save taxpayers a whole lot of money.

The North Carolina Press Association is not tasked with looking out for you. The organization looks out for its members (read: print newspapers). Don’t believe me? Here’s what Laura Nakoneczny, NCPA member services director, told The Pee Dee Post:

“The bottom line is that NCPA remains primarily a newspaper organization — dedicated to the needs of the ‘print’ press,” Nakoneczny wrote to the Post. “We don’t claim to be an organization that represents all news media, and we only pursue the legislative agenda and other interests of (print) newspapers.”

You see, she doesn’t mention the needs or interests of readers.  Not even once.

I realize this argument won’t gain traction this legislative session. Probably not next year, either. Sooner rather than later, though, it’s going to be awfully difficult for lawmakers to ignore their constituents about this issue. And legacy media knows it.

Kevin Spradlin is managing editor of The Pee Dee Post. He can be reached at 910-331-4130 or peedeepost@gmail.com.

 

 

Filed in: Featured News, Latest Headlines, Opinion

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  • triadwatch

    They need to take 2 words out of state law “paid subscribers”

  • GGoodwitch

    Where is your transparency, Spradlin? You have yet to disclose how much money you raised to keep your blog going, or where that money is being spent.
    How does the new orange truck suit you? I must congratulate you on matching it so sweetly to the colors of your darling little office.
    In a previous editorial you wrote (speaking of yourself in the third person as you are wont to do) about yourself, you made misleading statements which might have convinced a reader or two to believe that you actually have a paid staff to support.
    Nonsense.
    Do you pay Rep. Hudson for the press releases he emails you that you put forth as articles he wrote for you? No sir you do not. And what of your “Columnists” who freely contribute their stories to any and all takers? Why, you made it sound as though these people work for you, did you not? That, good sir, is fraud at best and (since we are talking about your blog here and not a newsPAPER) character assassination to those fine souls as well.
    And your IT person? Honey, this is a WordPress blog. I have created hundreds of them. And your hosting service only costs about $8 per month. What do you pay him now that his 30 minutes of work are done and there’s nothing to do to manage “IT” but log in and log out and write posts — all of which is done by you alone (except for the contributed press releases of course, which you have to copy and paste. Ouch! Don’t break a nail!)
    How much money did you manage to squeeze out of the people of your suddenly adopted “hometown?” And why do you believe you have no responsibility to account for its spending?
    Does the IRS know about you?
    How about the state department of commerce? I do hope you have registered there as some business entity if you are in fact one at all. Oh, and then you have to account for paying taxes: payroll taxes, state business taxes, licenses to operate and things like that which, as a blogger (and not a bad one at all, I mean no disrespect) you might not have sufficient awareness of. But you should. Sooner or later dearie, someone is going to want a look at your books, and they prefer raw — not cooked.
    Just a little something for you to chew on, out in the open, where we can all watch.
    Oh, and don’t bother inviting me for a sit-down in your little closet. It’s not exactly Narnia in there. And you have no “news” for me my boy.
    BEST of luck. You really do need it.

    • Kevin Spradlin

      First, I give more credence to those who provide their name. That approach makes much more sense.

      Second, the fact that you offer these so many “red herrings” leads me to believe that (a) you could be someone who is employed by, or (b) has a family member employed by, a traditional print newspaper. It also leads me to believe that because you want a reader to chase after so many falsehoods – and yet you fail to counter any of the points in the column above – that you agree with me more than you don’t (but you’re just not ready to admit it yet).

      Third, how a private, for-profit business spends its money is a much different issue – no matter how you look at it – is not your business. That said, you and anyone else are welcome to schedule an appointment with me (910-331-4130) and I’ll be happy to show you any figure you want so long as you sign a nondisclosure agreement first.

      If you were genuinely interested in any of the information you see, please visit me at my office at 301 E. Washington St., Rockingham, and I’ll be happy to show you the receipt for the “new” truck – with 263,000 miles on the odometer.

      I’ll show you the PDP’s operating budget. I’ll show you which columnists contribute exclusively to the PDP and which do not. None are paid. That doesn’t lessen their importance to what The Pee Dee Post aims to achieve.

      I’ll show you my IT needs and expenses.

      And “honey,” this is anything but a blog. This is a new media digital newspaper that beats the local competition (with 4.5 times the manpower) more often than not. But if you don’t know the difference between a blog and a digital newspaper, perhaps I’ve already invested too much time in this conversation.

      Best of luck to you. You might need it.

      Kevin

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