Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hyperlocal meltdown

From page A6 | August 23, 2013 |

A year ago an assemblyman proposed a bill that would have allowed an Internet-only “news entity” to become adjudicated as a newspaper of general circulation and thus qualified to publish legal notices.

Fortunately that bill is dead. More than that the Internet scheme behind this whole bill is nearly deader than a doornail itself.

We read with interest Aug. 14 a business news story about the AOL CEO apologizing after it leaked out that he fired his Patch creative director during a conference call with 1,000 employees. Patch is a collection of 900 hyperlocal news Websites, 400 of which CEO Tim Armstrong is going to sell off. Good luck with that.

As pointed out by USA Today columnist Rem Reider, six other hyperlocal Websites have come and gone since 2005, including one by Gannett, publisher of USA Today. Others to bite the dust were efforts by the Washington Post and an effort backed by multi-billionare George Soros. Armstrong has spent millions on Patch and has done nothing but lose money. No wonder he got touchy when the creative director took a photo of the boss during the meeting.

On a conference call with 1,000 employees, quite a few who are going to be laid off, it’s a cinch that some of them recorded the meeting. And that’s how the instant firing and the following wild quote came to appear in the New York Times:

“If you think what is going on now is a joke, and you want to joke around about it, you should pick up your stuff and leave Patch today,” Armstrong told the employees. Gee, what a guy.

Another hyperlocal news scheme is going the way of the dodo bird.

The only sure way to get public notices out to the affected public is through a printed newspaper, one that a court has formally declared as a newspaper of “general circulation.” Recently a county planning official claimed that “nobody reads the legal ads.” Yeah, and nobody knows who the vice president is or the chairman of the Federal Reserve or the secretary general of the United Nations, let alone who the county planning division director is or the general manager of the El Dorado Irrigation District.

You can bet that Mountain Democrat readers could answer most if not all of those questions, and could tell you what foreclosure sales are in the legal ads of the Mountain Democrat and what developments are proposed and identified with a map in the legal ads. And when the delinquent tax list comes out in the legal ads you can bet people will be looking for their neighbors in the list just like they do our DUI list.

You can bet contractors will be bidding on the Cedar Ravine Sewer Project that Placerville advertised in the Aug. 14 legal ads. People will be bidding on the storage locker advertised in the Aug. 14 legal ads. Businesses keep up with the fictitious business name listings to make sure nobody is repeating a name already in use. Then there is the change of name listing in the Aug. 14 legal ad. Readers will be on the lookout for name changes that may be routine or may be a way to escape a past.

By the way, the answer to the above is Joe Biden, Ben Bernanke, Ban-ki Moon (was once an exchange student in El Dorado County), Roger Trout and Jim Abercrombie.

Yes, people read the legal ads. Those who don’t more than likely don’t even read the newspaper, which is why they are surprised when something happens that has already been in the news.

The Web is a wonderful thing, as we have mentioned before, but it is no substitute for local news, and last year’s scheme to put legal ads on the Web would have buried the ads for sure. There is no substitute for the printed word, so people can read the news at their leisure and peruse the legal ads.



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