Santa Maria Sun / Canary
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 6
What's that smell?
Ah, there’s nothing like the smell of legislation. Yes, legislation actually has a smell—many different smells, to be exact.
Some bills, like AB65, local Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian’s proposal to extend rape-by-fraud protections to unmarried women, smell like justice and morality. I’m honestly not sure what that smells like, but you’d recognize it if you got a whiff.
Some legislation lets off the odorous scent of bacon (you know, those fatty, pork-barrel bills that are slipped in at the last second by money-grubbing politicians?). I know a lot of people who like bacon, but who love their own money even more, and those people aren’t exactly happy when they see their hard-earned money given over to taxes which are then spent on stuff like studies on whether pigeons follow human economics or buying gold-embossed playing cards for presidents to play Go Fish when they fly.
Others, frankly, smell like poo.
I’m talking about bills and stuff. Not people.
There’s one such stinky bill currently making its way through the legislative process; AB642 would allow news websites to qualify as “newspapers of general circulation” and therefore enable them to publish public and legal notices—a function that has typically fallen to printed newspapers.
On the surface, AB642 sounds like a noble effort to expand the public’s access to information and increase competition in the multi-million dollar public notice market. But if you do a little digging, as I did, you’ll detect a distinctly fishy odor.
As Managing Editor Amy Asman reported in this week’s article, “A newspaper by any other name?” (page 10), online media conglomerate AOL/Patch asked freshman Assemblyman Anthony Rendon to author the bill because, in a nutshell, more people are getting their news these days on the Web rather than in print.
Just for fun, I did a Google search (yes, I realize the hole I’m digging here by hopping online to help write my column about the importance of print) on AOL/Patch, and that’s when things started to get interesting. Patch, for those of you who don’t know, is a city-specific, online news aggregate that collects and posts local and national news.
A struggling AOL acquired Patch Media back in 2009 to boost its revenues. According to a recent article in Forbes, the move paid off … sort of. AOL was able to increase revenue in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2012, but Patch fell substantially short of its goal for the year. CEO Tim Armstrong blamed the lackluster results on Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the East Coast shortly after Patch’s relaunch.
I don’t want to make light of Hurricane Sandy by sounding flippant, but wouldn’t a natural disaster cause people to use online media like Patch more? Assuming they had power, of course. In the rest of the electricity-having world, I’m sure there were millions of people constantly refreshing the Internet browsers for the most up-to-date headlines, but I guess they weren’t getting those headlines from Patch. Perhaps that’s because they wanted to get their information from well-established news sources they could trust?
And that’s not the only problem AOL/Patch is having: Since 2011, the company has seen the departure of numerous big-name higher-ups, including Chief Operating Officer Arthur “Artie” Minson in February of this year. AOL is reportedly also looking for a new CEO for the content brands division, so maybe some of the still-unemployed people in this county looking for work can throw their hats into that ring. I hear it pays well.
The company is obviously hurting in terms of finances and leadership. It simply can’t be coincidental that the introduction of AB642 lined up nicely with all of these growing pains.
It sounds like AOL/Patch wants to get in on the public notices action to save its own virtual behind from fiscal insolvency. Of course, this is nothing new; businesses have used politics to get a leg up on their competitors for thousands of years. Would Michelangelo have built such a thriving art empire without help from the Pope?
What bothers me is that the passage of AB642 would allow experimental news entities like Patch to wrest much-needed revenue from the tried-and-true newspaper industry. (I’d love to be able to cue an American flag unfurling behind me as you read this, but since you can’t see me, how about you just hum a few bars of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” OK?)
As most of you probably already know, the industry is struggling to survive in today’s Internet-centric world. You might very well call me biased for siding with newspapers—I’ll admit, as a print columnist, my heart belongs to ink and paper—but I truly believe that the industry has already suffered enough.
More importantly, I don’t think allowing websites to post notices will really increase Californians’ access to public notices, because they can already find the notices on most of the newspapers’ websites. No, I’m not a hypocrite.
The Canary isn’t. Is she? Contact her at email@example.com.