Predictable Responses

As newspaper Editorial Boards begin to write about SB 208 their positions mirror what I called the tip of the iceberg and what we expected on the day that SB 208 was announced. In fact, one might almost wonder in passing if the editorial in the Standard Examiner was written by the same person who wrote the editorial in the Deseret News. Both dismiss the idea that they oppose this because it cuts into the revenue they get from publishing legal notices and both suggest that a state run website would not treat all legal notices equally. Also, neither editorial mentioned that this website would help city governments and citizens to save money on all the legal notices that they are required to publish. Essentially all their objections boil down to scare tactics as shown by this response to the Standard Examiner editorial.

As I read the Deseret News version I had a thought about an amendment to the bill that would expose the sincerity of the newspapers in their "public service" claim for opposing this. If the bill were amended to stipulate that the legal notices website allow bulk uploads of legal notices from entities such as newspapers (at bulk rates), and also allow a feed or other source for newspapers to print or otherwise republish the notices from that site (if they so choose) then I can see no reason for newspapers to object – besides the revenue competition. If the papers really are not afraid of the competition – if they honestly believe they are opposing this on public service grounds – they should simply offer to post on the state website any legal notices they receive so that their service complies with the new law (assuming it passes).

The Deseret News also provided two claims that need to be debunked.

In addition, as any Web surfer can attest, Web sites are not dependable. They are subject to technical issues, and they don’t make a reliable and enduring archivable record the way newspapers do.

As a long-time web developer I can say that whatever temporary glitches a website may have does not change the fact that web sites can produce reliable and enduring archivable records. In fact, the most reliable archivable records of newspapers are digital. For proof of that simply go look at archive.org. I can pull up old websites of mine that I know no longer exist on any computer where I ever published them. Even if a government site went down it is not likely that it would be lost.

The bill claims it would cost the state nothing. However, Web sites require considerable maintenance and personnel. Even if this new site were to fall under existing state government Web services, it still would cost taxpayers. Newspapers, on the other hand, store and archive data for nothing other than the cost of a legal notice.

This statement completely ignores what was actually said when SB 208 was first unveiled. The site would not cost taxpayers anything not because Sen. Urquhart is ignoring the cost of running a site, but because the site would charge a nominal fee to cover the costs of the website.

I have nothing against the newspapers – sometimes they have useful information – but they have yet to show a solid reason why they deserve a captive market for legal notices. To prove that, I would encourage a removal of the cap on what they can charge for legal notices (this would be even more broad than what they are pushing for in SB 161) if SB 208 is passed.

7 comments for “Predictable Responses

  1. BenJoe
    March 5, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Great post! The problem with this argument is people think this is anti-media! It is not! This has nothing to do with peoples opinion about newspapers in general. This is about saving money and having access to legal notices.

    Great Job!

  2. March 5, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    Nice fisking of the cry baby newspaper editors. I laughed as I read the St-Ex editorial and thought of your earlier post about SB208.

    I wonder if Sen. U. has picked a fight that will permanently earn him a black mark from the state’s newspapers. I will watch for such bias.

  3. March 5, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    I totally agree BenJoe – this is about saving money. As Sen. Urquhart said when he introduced the bill, people are still free to publish their notices in the paper, and in some cases it would make sense to do so, but they are no longer obligated to pay the newspaper rates when they have to publish a legal notice.

    Reach,

    I’ll bet that his black mark was already earned – the only problem is that the newspapers also know that he has his own outlets to keep them honest. His blog may not have the readership of the Tribune or the Deseret News, but it’s enough that they can’t pick on him without being challenged.

  4. Obi wan liberali
    March 5, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Interesting points David. Newspapers are struggling already with the online world. This legislation certainly would cut into their revenues, and in that regard, I understand their self-serving opposition.

    Best regards.

    • March 6, 2009 at 8:43 am

      I also understand their opposition – I just wish they would not pretend that their opposition is simply altruistic. They should admit that the fact that this cuts into their bottom line is a big reason for them to oppose the bill.

  5. March 6, 2009 at 9:59 am

    David, criticizing newspapers for asserting their opposition is altruistic while assuming that Sen. Urquhart’s reasons are is a little naive.

    I’m surprised to see such a “free marketer” argue that government can do something better than private industry. 🙂

    I think it’s also naive to assume that this will be a cheap endeavor for the state, as Urquhart promises. Things like this usually aren’t, and based simply on the “victim” mentality the Senator has for how the media treats him, I think it’s at least worth looking into his reasons, or who he knows that stands to benefit from it’s passage before we pat ourselves on the back for fighting those evil nasty newspapers, what with all their money making as a private organization and such.

  6. March 6, 2009 at 10:18 am

    I would like to make it clear that I have never suggested that the newspapers are evil or nasty (let alone both). I simply think that they are making use of their dominance of the public discourse arena to further their economic interests while pretending that they are not considering their own benefit. There is nothing wrong with seeking your own benefit – that’s the central premise of capitalism.

    This is not simply a question of government vs free market. The equation is not a free market equation because legal notice as a concept does not exist without government regulation. When government mandates that we publish legal notice there is no reason that government should be prevented from providing the means to fill that requirement. I have argued from the inception of this bill that if the newspapers were providing this service in a cost effective, consumer friendly way there would be no need for this bill. The fact is that the purpose of legal notice is best served when the legal notices can be accessed from a centralized source of information. The newspapers do not provide that on anything wider than local level, nor do they do it as cheaply as it could be done. If the newspapers were providing an easy way for people to access the legal notices from various papers I would not see any reason for the government to provide that service.

    Personally I don’t see Sen. Urquhart exhibiting a victim mentality but even if he were I don’t care one bit why someone is proposing this bill (or any other bill) – I only care that what the bill proposes seems to be good for citizens.

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