Sunday, December 04, 2011

Salisbury | In legal ads, 'printing' vs. 'publishing' defining income after presses get consolidated

Laws mandating the publication of legal notices for ordinances, elections, public hearings and the like have generated steady newspaper revenue for decades. Yet, many of these laws were enacted before radio, TV, the Internet and -- of much interest to Gannett -- consolidation of printing.

Now, at the small Daily Times in Salisbury, Md., a brouhaha has erupted over the paper's decision to move printing out of the area to another GCI paper in Delaware this year. The case spotlights the Salisbury City Charter's requirement that notices get published in a newspaper "printed" in the city or surrounding Wicomico County. (The Times' daily circulation: 17,210.)

A resident raised the issue at a city council meeting last week, according to the Salisbury News, a local blog competing for advertising with the newspaper. In a post, News Publisher Joe Albero says notices in the Times over the past year may be invalid if it's determined the charter requirement has been violated.

Newspapers everywhere are clawing for any revenue as advertising sales dry up. I don't know how much the Salisbury City notices are worth to the Times. But these days, any money is good money. What's more, as GCI consolidates more printing, the Salisbury case could have broader ramifications.

Defining 'printing'
In Salisbury, the outcome will almost certainly turn on how the charter's language is interpreted. I found at least five instances where the charter mandates that notices appear in a newspaper "printed" in Salisbury or the county.

But the language is inconsistent. One agency is required to "publish in a newspaper printed in Wicomico County." Ordinances, meanwhile, "shall be published by posting the same at some public place in the city of Salisbury (or by printing the same in some newspaper of general circulation printed in the city of Salisbury."

It's unclear whether GCI had any of this in mind when the Times moved printing to The News Journal in Wilmington, Del. The shift cost 17 jobs, nearly 12% of the paper's total -- jobs that few municipalities want to lose no matter how small the number.

Adding salt to Salisbury's wound, blog publisher Albero says the paper is getting tax breaks on its now-unused press. (Presumably, Albero is referring to depreciation on the press.)

"So, that being said," Albero wrote, "the City Council has ONE opportunity to bring JOBS back to Salisbury by forcing the Daily Times to start running their press again and NOT export jobs to Delaware."

How has GCI responded?
That's also unclear; searching the Times website today, I couldn't find any coverage of the issue.

City officials will be tempted to declare the paper eligible. Otherwise, they'll need to revisit all the legal notices published this past year, and the legality of actions that followed their publication.

GCI has been winding down print operations for years. By the end of 2010, 68% of the U.S. community newspapers had outsourced printing to commercial printers or to other GCI and non-GCI papers. Now, many of those presses are headed for scrap yards in cities such as Sheboygan, Wisc.

Like the city charter, GCI has used similarly confusing language to explain why it's consolidated. Here's how Times General Manager Greg Bassett put it when the paper announced its move in January:

"The synergies available to us through The News Journal's production facility, combined with new business models being adopted by publishers, allow us this aggressive approach to further achieve our business performance goals."

Translation: GCI's doing it to make money.

Merriam-Webster defines publish and print. What's your view? Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write jimhopkins[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the rail, upper right.


  1. In my Central Jersey town, this issue may be moot as the word at City Hall was that legal notices need only be sent to the newspaper and it doesn't matter whether they are actually published. This came out of early budget talks for 2012.

  2. In Wisconsin there is early talk of a law to remove the requirement of publication of legal notices (online on the government body's site will be good enough). Could have major financial impact on many of the state's smaller publications could ensue. And the way the Gannett buffoons bungled the WIAA lawsuit -- which never should have been filed in the first place -- show that the state's newspapers don't have the lobbying pull they once did.

  3. My understanding was when the Courier News closed the Bridgewater office and started to move everything to the Home News facility, the county of Somerset told the Courier News that it had to maintain a presence in the county or kiss the county's legal advertising goodbye. They rented an office in Somerville, the county seat, across the street from the County Administration building. Money talks...

  4. Jim, you need to check out your blogger buddy Albero, before you get too in-bed with him.


  6. This is not a dispute that will last long as legal notices will eventually migrate to the web. The issue of moving notices on line is being played out throughout the country. Smaller towns have already saved substantially by reducing what must be printed in the newspaper. In Illinois the the state press association, instead of fighting the pending migration to print, ended up taking less money to hold on to the ads. has been covering the eventual migration of legal notices to the web quite well. You are right that this is a very profitable revenue stream that will also ultimately leave print.

  7. The States and Municipalities should stop using newspapers, altogether because not only would it save the taxpayers money but the notices are already posted on their individual websites where they can be easily be accessed, viewed and the font sizes increased for readability. Everybody else (newspapers included) are trying to go paperless to cut down on costs, why shouldn't the States and Municipalities as well?

    People without computers or shut-ins can be put on a mailing list and receive them via snail mail or, if I'm not mistaken Free government laptops are available for people who fall in certain specific categories. My guess, shut-ins would be one of those categories as well as people facing economic hardships.

    Article Source:

    Another way is to have copies of the Ordinances and Notices mailed to the taxpayers along with their tax bills, or, the constituents of each Municipality can always go to the town hall meetings themselves where they can view first hand each Ordinance/Notice as they are introduced.

    ....just a thought...


    ''where they can be easily accessed''


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