March badness: Chickens come home to roost for Florida’s legacy newspapers

by | Mar 27, 2022



Florida’s major newspapers have a long history of bias, of pushing narratives that fit those biased views, and of trampling on anyone in their way in the process. Good luck getting your point of view included in a Florida newspaper if it doesn’t fit the newspaper’s preordained narrative.

At the same time, readers have increasingly turned away from newspapers they felt they couldn’t trust to give it to them straight. No surprise. Reporters like Mary Ellen Klas, and newspapers like the Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and Orlando Sentinel have turned the idea of objective journalism into a bad joke. They no longer even attempt to maintain the façade of objectivity; they make a mockery of the craft.

Well, the collective arrogance by Florida’s newspapers has come home to roost in recent years as technology made information dissemination easier and more democratic.

At one time, newspapers might as well have been printing money. But then the Internet allowed anyone to post their own classified advertising without going through the newspaper. At the same time, larger, national advertisers found new ways to target their sales pitches with more precision and efficiency than newspapers could hope to offer.

Now, Florida newspapers are facing another potential financial blow: the loss of a stable revenue stream in the form of mandatory public legal notices.

Bye, bye newspaper revenue pie

Florida lawmakers passed a bill last month modernizing the law regulating where public notices must be filed. If DeSantis signs HB 7049, newspapers can effectively kiss another chunk of guaranteed revenue goodbye. The new law still allows legally mandated public notices to be published by newspapers, but also offers governments and other entities to use alternative platforms, such as local government websites, if those options prove to be cheaper and meet certain requirements.

As a result, print newspaper publishers around the country (and of course in Florida) are in full freak-out mode, publishing opinion pieces explaining to their dear readers just what a terrible move it is to cut them off from all that easy money.

Okay, not really. That would be far too honest.

Instead, they argue, that public notices are important and should be easily accessible so that the public can remain informed. But those arguments against Florida’s new law are almost comical to read:

Local newspaper public notices keep the fox out of the henhouse,” reads one headline. Another publisher argued, “some of the most important journalism in your newspaper arrives in the form of public notices.”

But of course, those arguments are ridiculous. Public notices aren’t journalism. They’re basically classified ads, except nobody reads them. And newspapers who wish to claim the notices are “important” should do so while explaining why they’re always shoehorned into obscure corners of the back pages of the newspaper, usually between other ads.

DeSantis should sign the bill, because with or without that revenue, newspapers are going to keep struggling to make ends meet, and we’ll need alternatives in place.

Took readers for granted; their coverage slanted; now their accounts are all dry

Even with a fat cut of Florida’s legal public notice revenue, the Tampa Bay Times still can’t make ends meet. Last year, the Times was forced to relinquish control of its badly under-funded pension plan. The federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation moved in when it became obvious that the Times would likely never be able to make up a $100 million deficit owed to about 3,300 retirees.

The PBGC has also filed a number of liens against the Times in recent years, including a $32 million lien filed in 2019 “on all property and rights to property” because the Times “failed to make contributions to the pension plan required.”

Last week, the PBGC filed another $2.8 million lien, further evidence that the newspaper has failed to adapt and is slowly circling the drain.

With or without public notice revenue, Florida’s legacy newspapers aren’t getting the job done.

This will be the reason they die…

If newspapers and their owners think biased journalism, lopsided coverage and arrogant, top-heavy organizational structures are the way to go, that’s their prerogative.

So be it. It’s their funeral. Likewise, if readers and advertisers have decided to turn elsewhere, that’s their right. There’s no law that says taxpayers are obligated to spend money they don’t have to save a product they don’t want.

Newspapers are fond of referring to themselves as the Fourth Estate, implying that they are an extension of the three branches of government and are somehow deserving of taxpayer support. But let’s remember this — that’s just public relations spin. Newspapers have been going out of business since the printing press was invented. In our society, the people get to choose who and what they wish to support.

As we at The Capitolist and our digital counterparts have proven over the last six years, there are a lot of other alternative media sources out there.

4 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Good riddance, I say!

    Reply
  2. Don Cassilly

    Funny to read a biased rant about biased newspapers.

    Reply
  3. Harvey Slentz

    There are many web sites that list, by state and even county, who has money waiting on them held by the county.

    These same private business organizations can easily access county-by-county legal notices about people, property and organizations who are now subject to legal or regulatory action.

    These sites could also maintain a database (for a low annual fee) of who to notify if that entity is an interested party in probate, lawsuit, divorce and denial of spousal liabilities, and so on.

    The newspapers are not prohibited from publishing the information- it’s just that the party who would pay the website (above) would have to pay the newspaper like any other ad. Most people can easily be found by a variety of services.

    This is so easy a caveman could do it.

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    Hope it puts them into bankruptcy. It is what is deserved.

    Reply

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