A lot of people don’t realize this, but in the early days of the newspaper industry most publications were supported by lucrative printing contracts with the government. Printing public notices and documents for the government is what subsidized the news reporting and editorializing done by the earliest papers.
And a lot of people don’t realize this, but the practice continues today. Of course, newspaper revenues have gone far beyond printing things from the government, but you might be surprised about just how much your local paper is making.
Valley News Live took a look at some of the papers in the Fargo-Moorhead area:
In 2012, Cass county spent about $64,000 ($64,139.00 to be exact), Fargo spent $91,000 ($91,466.00) and the city of West Fargo spent over $24,000 ($24,963.84) on just publishing public notices. Now that does not include what school districts spend. In 2012, West Fargo school district spent $27,131.23, Fargo public schools spent $27,022.00 and Central Cass school district spent $2070.92
In one year, two cities and one county spent over $180,000 tax dollars ($180,568.84) on just public notices. In North Dakota there are 53 counties and 393 towns and cities. The costs can add up quickly.
Really, the publication of government notices only tells one part of the story. Government advertising is almost an industry until itself. Case in point, I recently filed an open records request with North Dakota’s anti-tobacco agency for how much they spent on a marketing campaign attacking landlords who allow smoking in their properties.
They spent $108,000 on the campaign in one month, mostly on broadcast advertising (Valley News Live got $21,765 of it).
Now think about all the advertising from government entities you hear about on the radio. Ads marketing social programs. Tourism. Universities. Etc., etc.
The government and the media industry – not just the newspapers – have a big-dollar relationship that doesn’t get much scrutiny. Because, let’s face it, most in the media aren’t about to shine a spotlight on themselves. But given that the government controls a lot of ad dollars, I think it’s valid to explore this relationship, and question what impact it has on news and editorial content.
For instance, how likely is a newspaper or television that got tens of thousands of dollars in ad revenue from an anti-smoking campaign going to be to question that campaign?