Two winners from an Alabama law that requires local government fund newspapers: Goodloe Sutton and Alabama Media Group
Alabama’s law on legal notices and public notification is not that different than the laws of other states that require state and local government must advertise in local print newspapers for matters of the public interest. This means government entities must take tax dollars and hand them over to media companies in exchange for advertising that almost no one reads.
These laws may have served a purpose decades ago, but in 2019 it is hard for anyone to argue that counties should have to publish entire voter roles in local newspapers and pay for the privilege to do so. But that is the law right now and it is costing state and local government in Alabama millions of dollars.
The law is absurd for multiple reasons, but it is also an unfair burden on some cities.
The city of Huntsville spent close to $115,000 on this issue in 2018, while the city of Hoover spent roughly $10,000 dollars on state-mandated advertising on local matters.
As Hoover City Councilman John Lyda put it, they are lucky enough to not have a newspaper in their city limits.
“We are a bit unique in that the law states that certain things must be advertised in a paper that is ‘published in your city.’ Other items must be published regardless,” he stated. “Oddly enough, we do not have a paper published in Hoover so our costs are significantly less. In the last fiscal year ending Sept 30, 2018, we only spent $10,800.”
Sorry, citizens of Huntsville, we have a completely archaic law in place that forces you to spend tax dollars on an issue that is so important that there are some cities that don’t have to participate in it at the same level and cost.
So, we have established that the costs are uneven and that taxpayers are the big losers here.
Who are the winners? Media outlets, and I will highlight two big winners.
The newspaper editorial that garnered national attention from Linden, Alabama, was published in a newspaper that made $350,000 last year because of current Alabama law.
Excerpt via Montgomery Advertiser:
On Twitter, Joshua Benton, the director of Nieman Journalism Lab, posted an archived advertisement that Sutton posted in late 2018 in an attempt to sell the paper.
In the sales pitch, Sutton said the paper pulled in over $350,000 in “legal ads.” Benton posited that those ads may serve as a major funding source for the paper, which, if correct, would bring in $6,700 in government-mandated funding per weekly issue.
Not bad for a local rag with 3,000 subscribers.
Alabama is funding these racist rants.
The other big winner? Alabama Media Group.
AMG operates newspapers in Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville. All of those local papers are raking in gobs of money from local governments (see $115k from Huntsville and $153k from Madison County).
But it gets worse. Alabama Media Group received over $500,000 from the state of Alabama last year (some may be non-mandated spending, but most is not).
How about 2019 so far?
This is an affront to fiscal conservatism and common sense. Alabama legislators must reign this in.