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Testimony of the Mid-Atlantic Community Papers Association

In Support of House Bill 311
Before the House Judiciary Committee - Wednesday, February 20, 2008
by Jim Haigh

Thank you Chairman Vallario, Vice Chairman Rosenberg and members of the Committee for the opportunity
to speak before you today. My name is Jim Haigh, and I’m a consultant to the Mid-Atlantic Community Papers
Association, a regional trade association of independently owned free community papers. Our members publish
over 290 distinct publications in Maryland and the neighboring states of Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia,
Ohio, New Jersey, New York as well as in the District of Columbia. Our community papers range from newspa-
pers to shoppers, and have a combined weekly circulation of over 5,000,0000.

That figure is verified by independent audits of every member, conducted by Circulation Verification Council,
at the expense of the association. Those comprehensive, on-site circulation audits are buttressed by extensive
phone surveys in each publisher’s market. During the last round, 26,611 households were interviewed, and it
was determined with statistical certainty that 98.5% of residents receive our papers and 75% regularly read our
papers. Our publications are truly embraced by the communities they serve.

MACPA and our members strongly support this measure, as we do similar measures in other states. As a former
community paper publisher and MACPA officer, I’ve been personally involved for years in the battle to break
the paid paper monopoly on legal advertising in PA, where a half dozen hearings have finally lead to unanimous
passage out of committee, and momentum this session. Ohio, at the urging of municipalities and legal advertis-
ing consumers, recently established a Local Government Public Notice Task Force, which is now investigating
cost-effective alternatives to paid publications. Late last year, West Virginia’s Legislative Auditor quantified the
costs to local governments for legal and public notice advertising.

If municipal governments spend over 3.8 million a year in WV and 26.3 million in PA, it should be safe to say
that Maryland falls somewhere in between. And that’s just local government, not state government, not private
enterprise -- and not citizens, who among costs associated with notice ultimately pay the bill for the ads an-
nouncing the repossession of their property -- along with the salt on the wound, single copy price of the paper
printing that announcement.

Over the years, well established, free community papers have joined with local governments and concerned
parties in pushing for modest reform, and a fair and competitive legal advertising marketplace. In all instances,
only the paid paper lobby once stood or is still standing in opposition. Today, Connecticut, Vermont, Michigan,
Minnesota, Oregon and Montana allow for the use of free newspapers. Virginia now allows a free paper to peti-
tion the court, and many more states have gaping loopholes, like New Jersey, which says that if a qualifying
paid paper becomes united in ownership with a free paper, the free circulation is now qualified

After a thorough review of the circulation and practices of weekly newspapers in Maryland, it appears that
some may be operating as if they were governed by New Jersey law. The problem is a direct result of the out-
dated language House Bill 311 seeks to remove. In practice, the words “by sale” and “entitled to be entered as
second–class matter in the United States mail,” may mean that a paper prints a price on the cover, and that they
believe that the Post Office would give them below cost postage if they actually applied for entry. Second-Class
Mail was changed to Periodicals a dozen years ago, and the standards relating to paid circulation boil down to
printing a price on the cover and distributing at least half the copies at half-price or more.
Under current law, the outdated notion that people only read what they pay for still applies. But at the same
time, the law says that as long as somebody is paying for the paper, you can count it as everybody is paying
for the papers. That is the case in Baltimore, where fewer than 3,000 people acquire the Baltimore Messenger
“by sale” and almost 2,000 get it free. It can legally publish legal advertising and legal notices, while the East
County Times, which has an audited free circulation of 45,000, cannot.

This half paid and half free equals all paid, and therefore qualified to publish legal and public notice advertis-
ing, defies logic and the modern marketplace. But the actual situation may be worse. According to their legals
rate card, the free weekly Gazettes publish legals. According to their own history, on their website, they’ve been
free since Davis Kennedy made that decision two decades ago, prior to the Post-Newsweek takeover, and have
been so ever since. Standard Rate & Data Service listings count them all as free, but with many carrying a token
25 cent imprint. If they are running legals, as it appears, they may be gaming system in at least one of two ways
-- 1) using cover price to claim “paid” status, further deeming themselves “entitled to be entered” into 2nd-Class
now Periodicals, under a “we could if we really wanted to be (but we’d have to change the way we distribute,
besides nobody’s looking)” ...or 2) Billing through, or claiming some sort of “we’re deputized by affiliation”
with, their legally qualified Gazette of Politics & Business, and their paid weeklies under Southern Maryland
Newspapers umbrella.

Whatever the case may be, removing the language as proposed in this bill would render all of the publications
mentioned above legal, placing them on the same level playing field. It would provide fair competition for the
papers, and more options for the advertisers mandated to purchase official notice.

Thank you again for the opportunity to express the support of our association for this important legislation.

Jim Haigh
Consultant to
Mid-Atlantic Community Papers Association
610-965-4032
427 Ridge Street
Emmaus, PA 18049