If it were a boxing match, The Times-Picayune would have won more rounds last week talking swings at The New Orleans Advocate for the official journal business in Jefferson Parish. Official journals publish the legal notices found in tiny type in the back of publications. In Jefferson, the contracts are renewed annually, and if all other criteria are met, must go to the lowest bidder. Facing the end of the fiscal year on June 30, the various entities were required to pick their journal. Two cities, Gretna and Kenner, had been with The Advocate and returned to the T-P; Westwego, which has been with the T-P, stayed with the former daily. The big win for The Advocate was in retaining the official journal status for the Jefferson Parish Council. (To show how competitive the bidding was, The Advocate’s bid for the Jefferson parish business was 23 cents per column inch while the T-P bid 24 cents.)

In all cases the votes were unanimous and the business went to the lowest bidder. Still ahead in Jefferson are decisions to be made in Harahan (June 18), and a day later for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, which has two contracts: one for being the official journal and the other for judicial advertising.

Though the T-P won more business, it is unlikely the Newhouses are popping the Dom Perignon. Gone are the days when the newspaper had a monopoly over such business. When they switched the T-P from daily home delivery to thrice weekly, the Newhouse organization successfully lobbied the legislature to change the law to not be exclusive to dailies. But then came The Advocate, with a tradition of playing journal roulette in other Louisiana communities and with the political skill to also change the law to shorten the waiting period before its New Orleans edition could compete for the business. That too was accommodated.

Now the T-P is facing more competition and getting less for column inch. Because Jefferson Parish is divided into so many governmental entities (Orleans Parish only has one city) each June figures to be a battle month.

Journal designations are a soft side to the newspaper business in which publications, which often try to be self-righteous and independent in their political coverage, compete for advertising from the government. At least price, not politics, is the deciding factor. The Newhouses probably were not thinking about good government when they made their changes, but competition has driven the legal advertising price down.

An argument could be made that with the Internet newspapers should not be needed to print legal notices at all. Online searches would certainly be easier and less bulky. The counter argument is that the printed page should always be the anointed medium for preserving the legal word.

For the two fighters in the ring competing for the suburban title, the T-P may have won the week by a split decision, but the paydays are getting smaller. 

 

 

 

 

BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book websites.

Watch “Informed Sources,” Fridays at 7 p.m., repeated at 11:30 p.m. on WYES-TV, Ch. 12.