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Scree reminds of newspaper corporate welfare cost

In other words, the Shreveport Times is mad because politics got in the way of it legally picking the citizenry’s pockets through good old fashioned corporate welfare, in the process reminding us of how this is a waste of taxpayer dollars in the first place.

The Times worked itself up into high dudgeon when last month the Caddo Parish Commission yanked its business from The Times by a narrow vote. Legally, each June on an annual basis, local government bodies are to select an official journal among newspapers domiciled in the parish (if any exist) of the local government’s boundaries that “shall publish all minutes, ordinances, resolutions, budgets and other official proceedings of the police jury, town or city councils, or the school board.” For this, the official journal receives compensation from taxpayers of that jurisdiction, and is required within 20 days of the issuing of the documentation to have it in print.

This year, a combination bid of the Caddo Citizen and Shreveport Sun won the business. The weeklies came in 3 cents an agate line cheaper than The Times at 24 cents, or 9 cents below what can be charged maximally. Getting aced out of this made The Times furious, as evidenced by an editorial long on emoting but short on logic and coherence.

It begins, self-righteously enough, by proclaiming the move “certainly wasn't a sound business decision.” Even though it saved taxpayers money? An inconvenient point to say the least, but The Times tries to dance around this in two ways. First, it claims that the lower circulations of the winners, which together amount in their weekly editions to about a sixth of the average weekday figure in Caddo Parish for The Times, means “fewer parish residents will receive official notices and minutes of commission proceedings that may affect where they work and live.”

Actually, what that statement means is The Times editorialists have a penchant for straw man argumentation in place of logical analysis. The whole idea behind the official journal is to provide a forum for individuals to get access to documents, not to distribute as many copies of those documents as possible. If a parish resident is interested in these kinds of things, they can subscribe to these publications, which no doubt in response would be happy to print more copies – and more cheaply than The Times would. Or, if inquiring minds want to be thrifty, there are sources such as libraries – if not documentation posted by the governments themselves on the Internet – where they can read these things for free. Anybody who wants to receive this information will be able to do so just as easily as when The Times held the contract; it’s a red herring to redefine access to equate it to the physical number of copies of something printed. In no way would people who want to know be impeded from knowing.

The Times also tries to support its faulty conclusion by noting certain situations, such as emergency meetings of governing authorities, where only publication in a daily newspaper may suffice. But taxpayers still probably save more by contracting out notice of those rare events under the new terms than by taking the deal proposed by The Times.

And, in a great moment of unintended irony, if not outright hypocrisy, The Times faults Caddo for the decision because parish commissioners may have taken into consideration the economic boost the business gives to the small papers. “It is not the commission's duty to prop up businesses. Its role is to provide services for the common good and, in doing so, be a good steward of taxpayer dollars,” it thunders – when in fact the major reason in all likelihood The Times reacted so bitterly to the choice was that loss of the business is a significant blow to its own financial prospects, having lost over 40 percent of its Monday-Saturday circulation from 2000-10 translating into much lower subscription and advertising revenues.

But, in fact, it should not be the taxpayers’ job period to prop up The Times or any other newspaper. The entire idea of an “official journal” is an anachronism from decades gone by when disseminating that kind of information was costly and getting access to it otherwise was very difficult. But something called the Internet got invented awhile back, bringing the costs of distribution close to zero while making the (dramatically falling) circulation figures The Times trumpets look like chump change in comparison to the access now enjoyed via the World Wide Web.

So why should government hit up taxpayers if forced to spend, adding up what the state and all its local jurisdictions are required to pay out, millions of dollars a year, if it could do it for next to nothing? That was the idea behind HB 1212 last year, discontinuing the use of newspapers if so chosen by a local government, in favor of having any private operator put these documents on the Web (and in a superior format for indexing and searching) or having government do it themselves. But the bill was killed, you guessed it, by pressure from the Louisiana press, The Times included.

If The Times were serious about the arguments it made, it would editorialize that in order to get the widest access for the lowest transfer of funds from the people to some corporate entity the law should provide for Internet-based documentation only – and then offer to provide that. And if genuinely believing in its argument, offer to do so for free as a public service. Otherwise, it needs to admit its tantrum was primarily self-serving in asking taxpayers to pony up more just so that it could be the recipient of that wasteful corporate welfare.


Anonymous said...

Unless changes allow the system to scrape off dead weight like you, the change would be a joke.

Jeff Sadow said...

Your ignorance does not become you, nor does your lack of courage in failing to identify yourself.