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The Villages
Sunday, December 10, 2023

Ludicrous mandate must end for public notices and legal ads to appear in newspapers

The arrogance of the dying newspaper industry never ceases to amaze us.

In case you’re not aware of it, the industry that has been painfully dwindling away over the past several years is making a desperate move to stay relevant in the Sunshine State. Apparently, newspaper publishers across the state – those who often cry about the importance of personal freedoms – believe that government agencies should be forced to place their public notices and legal advertisements in their antiquated print products.

Clearly, this is a last-ditch effort by pulp purveyors to hold onto every last cent they can as their circulation numbers dwindle and advertisers continue to find much better ways to sell their products to consumers.

Thankfully, a group of Florida lawmakers feel the same way and they are working to repeal the ludicrous mandates that might have made sense many years ago but are nothing more than ridiculous in today’s technology-driven, online-friendly society.

Those lawmakers clearly understand capitalism and believe government agencies should have the right to choose where ads are placed, be it a news website, their own online page, a central clearing house or a newspaper. But the point is simple – those with the responsibilities to place those ads should be allowed to make a choice instead of being forced to use products put out by publishers whose idea of tracking readership is to simply verify that their products were left in driveways in the wee hours of any given morning.

Not surprisingly, several Florida newspapers have come out with editorials against the movement for freedom of choice for placing these ads. It’s comical how these same newspapers often back such freedoms when dealing with other topics. But when it comes to their shrinking pocketbook, the idea of forcing government entities to use their products gets justified.

Is anyone really surprised by that? Isn’t it amazing how newspapers are quick to spout mumbo jumbo and tomfoolery about third-party publishing keeping government agencies honest? And isn’t it even more comical that these newspapers refuse to acknowledge practicing such shady tactics that should make any true journalist cringe?

Frankly, it would be nice if those editorial page editors would just be honest and say the obvious – newspapers are losing money and circulation across the country and the loss of legal ads could mean more layoffs and less coverage.

But that isn’t happening. Instead, these editors who are fearing the loss of their own jobs are engaging in the same kind of garbage they pulled when the newspaper industry first faced huge cutbacks a few years ago. You might recall those days when newspaper editors actually had the nerve to tell readers that smaller staffs and less pages would improve their products and make them better newspapers.

It was hogwash then and it is hogwash now. Plain and simple.

Not surprisingly, the Florida Press Association has planted its flag right in the middle of this argument, because when newspapers lose money, they suffer as well.

Sadly, the FPA – always behind the times and afraid of change – cites an outdated 2017 poll that indicates 83 percent of Floridians think governments should be required to regularly publish notices in the local newspaper. They also claim that 82 percent of respondents – let’s remember that those conducting surveys can get any answers they want – wouldn’t visit a government website to read notices.

Seriously? They’re comfortable spouting two-year-old, questionable-at-best study results?

Anyone who knows anything about the online world – apparently that doesn’t include the powers-that-be at the FPA – understands that it has made gigantic leaps and bounds since 2017. Heck, it’s made massive leaps and bounds since we typed this sentence! Because unlike stodgy old newspapers, it’s changing by the second and getting better and better with just about every new development.

One of the best things about having public notices and legal ads posted online is that pertinent information can be tracked, such as how many people read them and when did they do so. Thanks to analytics, website owners know their customers well. And that can only bode well for those placing those government-driven ads, because in the newspaper world it’s really about nothing more than tossing it from a car into a driveway and forgetting about the customer for 24 hours.

While we’re at it, it’s time for newspaper publishers and editors to abandon the age-old argument about the number of people who aren’t online. We find it amusing that they’ll bring that nonsense up every time – especially bogus claims that seniors don’t go online – but you won’t hear them say a word about being in the dark when it comes to knowing what their customers really want to read.

Going forward, we encourage everyone to let your lawmakers know how you feel about this situation. We sincerely hope those lawmakers who understand the death of the newspaper industry is imminent will prevail and move Florida into this century when it comes to public notices and legal ads.

Hopefully, those lawmakers will make the point that online sites are immediate and can be updated at any given time, unlike newspapers that are actually relevant for about 30 seconds after they glide to a stop on driveways.

That said, we’re confident lawmakers will make these arguments and many other valid ones. And we believe this year will be a groundbreaking one because we’ll finally see the end of the silly mandates that force government agencies to send taxpayer dollars to newspapers that don’t do anything to earn it and in return don’t serve those customers well in any shape or form.

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