Jan. 25, 2012 | Times are tough for the newspaper business. So dire, in fact, that the East Bay behemoth–the Bay Area News Group–is ferociously grasping for every shred of revenue in the hope it can keep its array of bankrupt titles on the news rack.
With advertising severely cannibalized by free outlets like Craigslist, the fuel that once powered the local dailies (can you still call BANG papers dailies since they dropped Monday delivery services?) are now grappling for one of the few consistent revenues streams remaining–legal notices.
The Tri-City Voice, a small biweekly newspaper covering Fremont, Hayward, Union City and Newark, says BANG is trying to put them out of business over the right to publish the small legal advertisements.
“This is about corporate greed and maintaining a monopoly. What they do not own and control they want to crush,” wrote the publisher of the Tri-City Voice Sharon Marshak. The paper has set up an online petition to show the public support to a judge adjudicating the case. The petition has gathered over 1,000 signatures.
One Tri-City reporter said the loss of revenue derived from legal notices, estimated at around 40 percent of its income, could put the paper out of business.
Attorneys for BANG have argued the Tri-City Voice is a free publication without subscribers and does not satisfy requirements needed to publish the notices. It’s an issue the Tri-City Voice rejects noting while it is a free paper, it maintains a small list of subscribers. In the past, BANG has also used a similar gambit to make an end run at advertising dollars at the venerable East Bay Express.
BANG’s hegemony also presented this somewhat poignant conundrum for the Tri-City Voice’s case against it. The paper was instructed to post its own legal notice regarding the case. In order to do so, it would have been forced to place the ad in The Argus–a BANG newspaper in Fremont–at a cost of thousands of dollars, said a reporter for the Tri-City Voice. Instead, it chose to open an online petition at change.org.
In spite of a new directive by BANG’s new boss John Paton to move toward a more digital-centric operation based upon local bloggers and citizens providing it free content, it has shown a curious antipathy toward the potential community of freelancers.
Earlier this month, it sent a cease and desist letter to an Occupy Oakland blogger who created a Web site titled, Occupied Oakland Tribune. The site also uses a rendering of the famous Oakland Tribune Tower as part of its logo. The paper argued the name of the site and the use of the image may lead readers to confuse the effort with its newspaper operations, even though the paper no longer resides in the tower. Last year it was sold to a telemarketing firm.
“There is no way we are going to be intimidated by the Bay Area News Group,” said Scott Johnson, the creator of the site. “This is just another effort by the 1% to push around the 99%. While Oakland City Hall continues arresting people on Oscar Grant Plaza for no reason, the Bay Area News Group is now attempting to quash our First Amendment rights. This has got to stop.”
The use of the title is inspired by the newspaper circulated by Occupy Wall Street demonstrators last year named the Occupied Wall Street Journal. Johnson believes BANG will be cited for sanctions if the paper chooses to sue him.