Editor Jim Lundstrom’s testimony to the Assembly Committee on Rural Development and Mining on AB 731 in Madison on Jan. 4, 2018. Read more about the hearing and AB 731, here>>
In pre-literate times, town criers were the disseminators of their community’s legal notices. The powers that be behind those notices wanted the greatest possible dissemination of information.
The way the Wisconsin statute on legal notices now reads, the locally owned newspaper I have invested my time and energy into for the past five years is not considered a bona fide disseminator for legal notices because we produce a free publication.
We are unable to fairly compete in the marketplace because we do not charge for our publication, meaning we do not have the “bona fide circulation” required by state statute to compete for legal notices.
More importantly, this restrictive statute flies in the face of the centuries-old intent of public legal notices – to disseminate important public information to the widest possible audience.
Our business has been approached by municipalities, businesses and individuals about running legal notices, but we are barred from doing so by the state statute.
Traditionally free publications were shoppers filled with advertising, but we have a hard-working staff that prides itself on presenting original content, the news and information of our community.
However, our competition, the local “bona fide” newspaper owned by the tentacular Gannett Corporation, headquartered in Virginia, has recently begun looking more like a shopper than a bona fide newspaper. And people are noticing that the bona fide newspaper in Door County seems to have given up the fight, with less local content in each issue, but plenty of glossy inserts from Green Bay stores – now that the Sturgeon Bay Gannett newspaper is edited in Green Bay, it reflects more of Green Bay than its former home of Sturgeon Bay.
Although we may not be a bona fide newspaper according to the state statute, when people want their stories told, when they want to get the word out on their businesses or other endeavors, they come to us to tell those stories. We have many readers who do recognize us as their “bona fide” newspaper of record.
While I have no numbers to prove it, I have no doubt our publication gets into the hands of many more readers than our competition, both in and out of Door County, so this law is hampering the dissemination of important public information by allowing it to be carried in a publication that our entire community recognizes is being seen by fewer eyes.
While Assembly Bill 731 is a step in the right direction, it still does not treat our publication and others like ours fairly.
I ask legislators to look at the law enacted by the Minnesota Legislature, which removed the barrier of paid circulation. In fact, we are surrounded by states that allow free newspapers to compete with paid-circulation publications for legal notices.
In short, this statute shuts the legal notice door on our business in a supposedly “open for business” state and does a disservice to the dissemination of public information in our community and most likely in other parts of the state as well.