It’s hard to wrap your head around the goings-on in Davidson County as it relates to the “public notices” issue that is causing quite a stir across North Carolina.
Davidson County’s major newspaper is The Dispatch, published five days a week and based in Lexington, the county seat. The newspaper reports its circulation is nearly 11,000.
At its Feb. 23 meeting, the Davidson County commissioners voted 6-0 to move its public notices advertising from The Dispatch to the Denton Orator, a weekly newspaper.
The official meeting minutes noted that Clerk Debbie Harris “had been tasked with compiling research into the per-column-inch charges for publication (of public notices) in the three newspapers in the county.”
The Thomasville Times was “unable to provide a column-inch charge, as legal advertisement costs were calculated by a computer program.”
Commissioner James Shores noted “the Denton Orator was half the price of The Dispatch.”
The Denton Orator is published on Wednesdays and has a circulation of about of 2,200. Denton is located in the southeastern section of Davidson County, about 18 miles from Lexington.
The Denton Orator was established in 1995 by Stan Bingham of Denton, a retired lumber company owner. Bingham represented Davidson County in the North Carolina Senate from 2001-17 and is a former chair of the Davidson County Board of Commissioners.
Interestingly, Davidson is among the 23 counties that are seeking legislative action to exempt local governments from publishing their “public notices” in community newspapers. These counties want to be allowed to post all required information on their respective county-owned websites.
The Dispatch ran an editorial on Feb. 13 in opposition to two bills that were filed in the House of Representatives. The editorial was written by Tia’Lavon Hill, who contributes to The Dispatch and The Courier-Tribune in Asheboro. (Both newspapers are owned by Gannett Co., Inc., of Tysons Corner, Va.)
Hill wrote: “These notices do not subsidize the operation of local newspapers, but they do serve as an important check and balance service that newspapers have provided to local governments for decades.”
“It’s no secret that from time to time the news isn’t always favorable among some local officials, but that doesn’t justify the attempts at retribution against local newspapers at everyone else’s expense.”
“Accountability and transparency are worth protecting.” Hill suggested: “Contact your local legislator and county commissioners to put a stop to this violation of your rights. Tell them to keep public notices in newspapers so that the public can see them and put an end to this re-occurring nightmare.”
Sharon Myers, a reporter with The Dispatch, interviewed Rep. Larry Potts (R-Lexington) for an article that ran March 8.
“I want to support local businesses, but being in government for 22 years, I am always looking to save money,” Potts said. “On one side it is about the dwindling circulation of newspapers, and the other is bringing everyone into the digital age. I am still thinking about it.”
Rep. Sam Watford (R-Thomasville) also represents Davidson County. His wife, Karen Watford, is the current chair of the Davidson County Board of Commissioners.
Let’s do the math. As it stands now, the county figures to cut its “public notices” advertising costs roughly in half. But factor in that the Denton Orator has a circulation that is much smaller than The Dispatch. The ratio is about 2,200 : 11,000.
Cutting costs by about 50% to reach about 20% of the former market doesn’t look like a very good deal for the citizenry.