It is no secret that the newspaper industry, still uncomfortable with the internet all these years later, is struggling, but if it should have a last gasp, that should come naturally, and not at the end of a barrel.
Thanks to Gov. Roy Cooper the industry’s head is no longer in the cross-hairs of Sen. Trudy Wade, a Guilford County Republican who wasn’t even clever in her attempt to use legislation to punish local media she believes treated her unfairly.
Cooper this week vetoed House Bill 205, which allowed local governments in Guilford County to publish legal notices on their own websites, and not pay to have them published by local media that has much more readership. It is likely that for the first time a Cooper veto will not be overridden by the Republican-dominated General Assembly and, if you are wondering, we believe all our local representatives are on the correct side of this issue.
Before Cooper’s veto, the Jamestown News made this page 1A plea: “Trudy Wade’s Bill Will Close Jamestown News,” and then adding, “Governor’s Veto is Our Last Hope.”
Similar efforts have been made in recent years to pull legal notices from local newspapers, and this latest more focused effort disguised as a “pilot program” was feared by the newspaper industry as a foot in the door that might eventually step on its neck.
News these days, too much of which is fake, is often disseminated through social media, and even those who remain loyal to their local newspaper more and more read the news on their phone, and not at the kitchen table with paper in hand. The Robesonian, like most newspapers, uses robesonian.com to present local news, which allows us to become a news source 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and not only when the press is rolling.
But squeezing revenue out of the internet is always challenging.
If Wade had succeeded in killing the Jamestown News, which serves 3,600 people in that Guilford County hamlet, where would they have looked for news on what the town government is doing, who got married, who died, which students earned scholarships, and which team won the high school football game?
But more to the point, who would be the watchdog for that community, the entity that would shine the light to disinfect when government acts to its own interest, and not to the public’s?
Cooper gets it, offering these words with the veto pen: “… Time and again, this legislature has used the levers of big government to attack important institutions in our state who may disagree with them from time to time. Unfortunately, this legislation is another example of that misguided philosophy meant to specifically threaten and harm the media. Legislation that enacts retribution on the media threatens a free and open press, which is fundamental to our democracy.”
Municipal governments, even if they are determined to do so, which we would question, can’t match newspapers’ audience when print and online are combined, and many people, the poor, elderly and rural, remain without internet access. Public notices are required by law for a very real reason, the public needs to know.
This newspaper is familiar with government retribution, having lost for a couple of years the opportunity to publish delinquent tax notices because of our aggressiveness in informing the public of the commissioners’ pay and benefits. The loss did two things, robbed us of revenue, but also minimized embarrassment for those who were tardy and gave them comfort knowing fewer folks would know, which was counterintuitive to the intent of publishing them in the first place.
We applaud Cooper for doing the right thing — and urge him to keep the veto pen handy as this effort seems to be rebooted every time legislators make their way back to Raleigh.