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A threat to newspapers, and your right to know

OPINION by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette | March 5, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

You may not realize it, but you're in danger of losing your ability to read not only this newspaper, but many other local newspapers in Arkansas. This time the culprit is not Google or Facebook, but rather the Arkansas Legislature and your local government officials. They want to take legal advertising away from newspapers and place it on a government or third-party website.

This threat to newspapers, and your right to know the government's business, comes from Scott Flippo in the Senate and Fran Cavenaugh in the House.

Due to the loss of so much other advertising, today legal advertising is the largest source of advertising for this and many other Arkansas papers. In fact, for this newspaper, it represents over 26% of all our advertising revenue. The loss of legal revenues would push this newspaper alone into a multi-million-dollar-a-year loss. It would take away a large chunk of the revenue that hometown newspapers rely on to operate, and they would be forced to close their doors.

Legislators say it's not the state's job to subsidize newspapers, and we agree. It's also not the state's job to kill businesses.

Cavenaugh argues that newspapers need to move into the digital age. Maybe she forgot the multimillion-dollar investment this company made in those iPads our readers love, and the billions of pageviews Arkansas newspaper websites get each year. We embrace that many people go online for news and information. That's why in addition to print, we already place every public notice on our digital replica apps, our websites and the APA statewide website. As long as print and digital both exist, why not give people the option to read notices however they want? Wouldn't that be best for transparency?

Perhaps those local government officials pushing for the bill are tired of newspapers asking public officials all those pesky questions. Without newspapers, there would be no reporters to hold them accountable.

That brings us to the matter of putting public legal notices on a third-party website. Why, when those websites already exist? This newspaper (and the Arkansas Press Association) recently upgraded to a state-of-the-art public notice site that is easy to use, and more importantly, easy to find. And there is no extra charge for these ads going on this website.

We admit to having a vital financial interest in this legislation. But you have a vital interest in it, too. If you believe having newspapers around to not only serve as a watchdog on government, but also to protect your right to know, your voice can make a difference. At this point, only public opinion can sway those who want to do away with newspapers in Arkansas. Hopefully, if you feel strongly enough about this, you can let the sponsors and those on the legislative committee considering this bill know:

If you don't, we will all live with the consequences.

Print Headline: A threat to newspapers, and your right to know


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