Proposed legislation could kill newspapers

We join a growing list of community newspapers from across the state in asking our readers to write letters and send emails opposing a bill in Sacramento which, if passed, could literally put many of us out of business.

Assembly Bill 642, authored by Anthony Rendon (D-Bell), proposes to permit the online publishing of public notices by allowing Internet-only entities to become “newspapers of general circulation.” Affected would be the publishing of notices of public meetings and bids, fictitious business statements, name changes, and trustee sales.

Rendon, a freshman member of the state Assembly, agreed to carry the legislation at the specific request of AOL (formerly known as America Online), which operates the Patch online local news sites. AOL wants the law changed so that it can steal the precious legal advertising dollars to help infuse new cash onto its struggling news model.

AB 642 is similar in scope to last year’s AB 1902, which died in the Assembly Judicial Committee. This new version has been assigned to the same committee for a yet-to-be-scheduled hearing. Here are a few of the many reasons it deserves the same fate:

• The criteria used to establish an Internet-only entity to be the official newspaper for a community is so weak it would allow any blogger or hobbyist with a laptop, tablet or smart phone to qualify.

• AB 642 requires no brick-and-mortar presence, no business office, and therefore, likely no local publisher, editors, local ad staff, no production or circulation staff. A single “regional editor” aggregating content from the worldwide Web and rewriting news created at great expense by real newspapers would qualify.

• The Internet is a seek-and-find technology. Newspapers are a “push technology” dependably pushing millions of printed, published and distributed public notices into millions of households and businesses every day. Put another way, AB 642 moves published and distributed public notices from a proven, reliable method of delivery to an uncertain, experimental system requiring the public to identify, seek and find public notices.

• Internet-only public notices are undependable, have no permanency; are subject to change; and susceptible to technological failure. Internet connections fail, servers crash, links die and websites are hacked.

• We find it improbable that an Internet-based “newspaper” can offer a level of service for the legal advertising dollar that includes filing a proof of publication with the court.

Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, who represents neighboring District 77, is a member of the Judiciary Committee and has emphatically stated his opposition to the bill. However, he is one of only three Republicans on the 10-member committee that is chaired by Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont).

If you care about the public’s right to know and the financial viability of newspapers such as this one, please take a few moments within the next week to write or email your opposition to AB 642. (A sample letter can be downloaded

here

.)

Send it to assemblymember.wieckowski@assembly.ca.gov or mail to his capitol office at State Capitol Room 4016, Sacramento, CA 95814.

   
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