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Friday, May 23, 2008

Stop The Presses: Before Leaving, Ohio AG Dann Preserved Print Media Advertising Monopoly

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Two weeks before scandal drove Marc Dann from office on May 14, Ohio's former attorney general issued a formal legal opinion that drew a distinct boundary between digital and print media. He said the state's growing crop of online publications are not eligible for some forms of official legal advertising. The seven-page decision preserved a financial plum for Old Media print newspapers and closed off a potential revenue source for New Media. Print continues to have a monopoly on legal ads after Dann's declaration that, "An online version of a newspaper . . . is not a 'newspaper of general circulation' for the purpose of notice by publication . . ." The complete text of the seven-page opinion is available here.

Dann's April 30 ruling was in response to a question by Betsy Houchen, executive director of the Ohio Board of Nursing, which regulates the nursing profession. Houchen's inquiry sought to learn if state law would allow the nursing board to notify license holders of disciplinary hearings through means other than service by mail or legal ads in print publications. Dann said no, and found the Internet was different than print, though he noted that newspapers have online versions.

"Newspapers vary in their online offerings. Some sites are free for all users to view, while others may require payment of an online subscription fee or maintenance of an existing subscription to the print edition of the newspaper. Newspapers often reformat print editions for their web sites. Online newspapers typically present a series of links to various news stories or links to pages of general news topics that then provide links to various news articles.

"In addition to the typical series of links most newspapers use on their websites, there are still other ways newspapers make content available to their readers. For instances, some of Ohio's newspapers offer what they call an 'electronic edition' or 'digital edition,' which has an appearance and format very similar to the hard copy, printed edition, but is viewed and read electronically rather than in hard copy, and is accessed in a number of ways depending upon the newspaper. With the wide range of possibilities for offering newspapers online, the only trait common to all online newspaper editions is their accessibility through the Internet."

In Ohio, the legal ads must appear in publications with at least 50% of the readership as paying customers. They also have to have second class mailing privileges via the U.S. Postal Service. Dann said the Internet creates free distribution and online publications don't transmit content using snail mail. He said, "An online version of a newspaper at a minimum fails to meet these two requirements."

Bottomline: Old technology reaps the money from legal ads.

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