Poll: Voters want to end newspaper subsidy

Last December, there was much debate over whether or not to end the newspaper subsidy.  This is the $80 million in revenue certain New Jersey newspapers get each year because county and municipal governments, as well as private entities and other governmental agencies, are forced by law to run public notices or advertisements at the back of these newspapers.


It is one of the first things that county and municipal governments do each year, in January, at the annual reorganization meetings held all over the state.  Along with selecting various vendors, handing out contracts for the year, they decide which newspaper(s) will get the government-mandated subsidy.  It places the newspapers who cover those bodies in a funny position and a potential conflict when covering the officials who decide on who gets the subsidy.


Legislation was proposed last December to end the requirement that municipal and county officials pay to publish public notices in printed newspapers, and instead allow them to save that money collected from property taxes by posting ads for official actions such as sheriff's sales, ordinances and bid solicitations, on their own websites.  In response to this, the newspaper industry launched a lobbying effort that was unprecedented in its scale.  Full page ads were run, newspaper employees were asked to call their legislators, and money was spent on a grassroots social media and lobbying effort.  And in a clear conflict of interest, editors took to the phones to strong arm legislators who were even thinking about voting for this reform.      


The newspapers' efforts surprised some.   Others noted that they had no choice, because many depend on the revenue they get from mandated government advertising. 

The legislation ended up being placed on hold, but not before extensive polling was done throughout the state.  In January, a poll conducted in Northwest New Jersey showed that in Sussex County, 67.3 percent of voters wanted to end the newspaper subsidy and the public notices requirement.  Despite the intense lobbying campaign on behalf of the newspaper industry, only 18.4 percent of voters in Sussex County wanted to maintain the subsidy.  14.3 percent were undecided or refused to answer.


We suggest that the New Jersey Herald make the newspaper subsidy it enjoys and the legislation to reform it one of the questions it asks candidates for the state Legislature.  The voters deserve to know where each candidate for public office stands on this form of crony capitalism and what to do about it.


This issue isn't too different from that of ObamaCare.  There, government orders you to buy coverage from a for-profit company that sells health insurance, even if you don't need it.  Here, government orders your tax dollars to be spent to print public notices at the back of a newspaper -- owned by a for-profit corporation -- even if it is unnecessary and something a searchable website can do better.


No wonder certain newspapers hate all Republicans.  Republicans support this reform.