Newspapers Face Off Before the Legislature

The battle between The Times-Picayune and Advocate extends to publishing legal notices.

Imagine if there was a bill before the state legislature that, if passed, would increase competition among government vendors and would thereby lower costs for government. By its nature, the new law would also give the little guy a better shot at obtaining government business. Assuming all other circumstances are favorable the law seems too good to turn down. It is the sort good government legislation that opinion makers, such as newspaper editorial writers, have usually endorsed.

Well such a bill is before the legislature but don't expect the Newhouses to be too enthusiastic about it. As reported by former Times-Picayune journalist Tyler Bridges in The Lens, an online news service, the proposal would change the requirements for awarding the rights to publish lucrative legal notices for Jefferson and Orleans Parishes.

Put simply, The New Orleans Advocate wants the five-year qualification period to be reduced so that it can go after the business. In the past when the law has been amended it has been in The T-P's favor such as when the requirement that the paper had to publish daily was conveniently changed to three times a week. The Newhouses might not like this latest change so much. Yet it makes sense. The rationale for the time restriction was so that no hasty start-up operation could muscle in on an established business, but The Advocate descends from a Louisiana-based newspaper business that is almost as old as The T-P, besides it is locally owned.

Bridges' article explains how various parts of the "legals" business are controlled by different political entities, such as sheriffs who must make official announcements of property sales.

Legals have long been a major source of advertising for newspapers. While they are important to big city publications they have historically been a lifeline for rural papers for which the government is the main advertiser. Arguments are made that the requirement to publish legal notices may one day be totally replaced by the Internet where all records can be posted by the appropriate government agency. Not everyone has access to the Internet, but the main users of legal notices — lawyers and real estate people — do. Given the historic traditions of print on paper being the medium for recording legal documents doing otherwise would take years of debate.  Changing the law would be a page one story — any day of the week.

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Categories: The Editor’s Room