Data on legal notices is bad news for newspapers

Data from Guilford County show that tax collections were unaffected by whether or not delinquency notices were published in the News & Record.

GREENSBORO, NC — North Carolina state senator Trudy Wade recently sponsored a bill—successfully passed by the General Assembly and awaiting the Governor’s signature—that will give local governments in Guilford County the option of publishing legal notices on their websites instead of having to pay to publish them in newspapers, as has long been legally required. The law would apply to only Guilford County and none of the other 99 counties in North Carolina.

The News & Record’s response to Wade’s bill was to assert that, between the printed paper and its online viewers, the News & Record can deliver a much better reach for legal notices than government websites. That argument, for newspaper people, was woefully lacking in proof.

A News & Record editorial claimed:

“[T]he county’s and city’s websites received (sic) nowhere near the readership of the News & Record’s print edition and”

And in another piece, News & Record publisher Daniel Finnegan was more specific, asserting this:

“[W]e reach far more people with the combination of our newspaper and website — more than 100,000 per day — than government websites.”

The News & Record offered no data to substantiate their undocumented claims that they have more visitors between paper and website than the government websites to which they were comparing themselves. So who knows if that is really true?

But really, this comparison is looking at the wrong thing. What matters are results.

In the case of publishing delinquent tax notices, the purpose is to get people to pay the taxes they owe. That we can measure and the results are bad news for newspapers. This chart says it all.

Source: Guilford County Tax Department

Years of data from Guilford County show that whether tax notices were published in the mighty News & Record or only in the the tiny Jamestown News and Carolina Peacemaker, tax collections remained a steady 98+ percent. And if you want to get picky, collections actually went up slightly in years when notices were not placed in the News & Record.

Greensboro needs like hell a vibrant “newspaper” (in print or online), but the News & Record has a long history of avoiding innovation even as the world changes around it. Actually, that’s not entirely true. The News & Record was an early adopter of the web in 1995. And it made some exciting early moves towards socially-driven citizen journalism in 2005/2006. Those efforts were squashed by then-publisher Robin Saul however and the News & Record has since been in retreat from entrepreneurial tech endeavors, retiring its in-house technology department and now depending on what appears to be uninspired technical direction from new parent BH Media.

Of course the News & Record has to fight to keep every available income opportunity available to it. But, in this case, it cannot make a winning argument. It stinks that we have a state senator in Trudy Wade who has no qualms about attacking our hometown institutions and so little regard for the well being of people (recall her failed attempts to redistrict Greensboro’s city council and to re-open the in-town White Street landfill to garbage). But, even if her motives are to harm a newspaper that frequently criticizes her (and who knows?)—in this instance, data about the effectiveness of public notices published in newspapers back her up, even if she did not know them before hand.


Thanks to Keith Brown, who requested and then provided the Guilford County data on tax collections and newspaper notices.


2 Comments on "Data on legal notices is bad news for newspapers"

  1. Keith Brown | July 12, 2017 at 8:25 pm |

    Thanks for this post. It is very hard to debunk all the stuff coming from the NC Press Association and this is another angle they are dead wrong on

  2. Well, it aint hard to debunk if you got the right mindset of an investigationer. I done seen people do more with less around these parts. I aint to concerned with your threats neither. I got several things going for and against me simultaneously like one of them zing zangers. Billy done helped me get a deal and now im the reporter that no whats going on.

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