Monday, December 28, 2009

A Guvmint Handout The R-J Loves

Rarely is there a day when the editorialists at the Las Vegas Review-Journal do not peer out at an unjust world through their extreme-libertarian lenses and find some form of government spending to bash as unnecessary or excessive or a result of our ever-expanding Nanny State.

And then, this morning on my driveway, I received the fruit of the R-J's very own guvmint handout: a 36-section, 576-page, 9-pound stack of newsprint that went almost directly into my recycling bin. Almost, of course, because I had to take a moment to look more carefully on your behalf at the sort of pocket-lining Socialism that Sherm Frederick, Tom Mitchell and the rest of the Bonanza Road gang are A-OK with.

What is it? Well, that's a printed list of every property and property owner in Clark County and their tax assessment. They do it every year. And, yes, all of this information is readily available to anyone who wishes to find it on the Clark County Assessor's website. You can go right there and find out exactly how much my house isn't worth these days. Knock yourself out.

No, no. You won't see anyone over there bitching and moaning about the $555,000+ waste of Clark County taxpayer dollars mandated by a 100-year-old state law. Nor will you see any reporting in the paper about how a change to that law to end this direct deposit into the local newspaper's accounts passed both houses of the Nevada Legislature in 2009 only to be vetoed by Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons. Strange that the R-J didn't rail viciously against the smaller-government-loving Gibbers keeping in place a system that flushes $800,000 in taxpayer money across the state down the toilet. How many teachers could we hire with that dough?

Keep in mind, this is a desperate state that has had to cut just about everything. The Stephens Media Subsidy, however, stayed in place. And the Legislature, which overturned Gibbons' veto a record 41 times, including to heroically grant me fake gay marriage, didn't bother with this one.

Why does the government spend all this money to print and distribute this material? For that we turn to April testimony from the Nevada Press Association, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Old Media which has in the first line of its who-are-we blather that members are "limited to newspapers qualified to publish legal notices in the state." It's their entire raison d'etre. You're not a worthy member unless you're on the take from The Man.

NPA Executive Director Barry Smith appeared before a Nevada Senate committee on April 30 to defend this silliness. According to the transcript, he repeatedly insisted that such public notices are an important service that helps keep the assessors honest and allows neighbors to detect mistakes, inadvertent or otherwise.

He also claimed that having this landfill-fill delivered is far more user-friendly than going on the assessor's website. That is actually a lie. The 576-page behemoth I received today lists everything in alphabetical order. I don't know most of my neighbors' last names and I suspect neither do you. But when I go to the Assessor's website and toss in any address, the site helpfully also lists several others before and after mine. See?

From there I can click on any of them and find out who owns it, how many bathrooms they have, what sorts of improvements they've made and so on. I can even see an aerial photo of the place. I keep pressing the paper I received today, but darn it if nothing ever seems to pop up!

Smith's performance in Carson City was the sort of thing that the R-J boys would be picking apart tasty limb by tasty limb if he weren't standing up for perpetuating their gravy train. He complains that government websites are too complicated and there are so damn many of them, so the people just can't find what they need themselves. Because, you know, the R-J is usually in the business of advocating for
government intervention on behalf of helpless and deliberately clueless average Americans.

Smith also waved this "survey" the NPA took that showed that -- surprise! -- 87 percent of respondents said state and local governments should continue to publish such notices in newspapers. In his testimony, though, he admits it was not a random-sample survey which means it also has no scientific value for use in making public policy. Also, the findings make no common sense.

My favorite, though, is when Smith argues that removing the newspaper from the equation also removes "third-party accountability." I guarantee you nobody at the R-J or any other newspaper actually reviews the information they publish for the county. This is an advertiser relationship; the newspaper is in no way acting as a fact-checking entity in this mix. Another lie.

Smith is also gravely concerned that the U.S. Census in 2007 found 47 percent of households with annual incomes of less than $25,000, 45 percent of Hispanic households and 40 percent of households where people have no college education have no Internet access. He doesn't bother to note that it's pretty unlikely those people even subscribe to the newspaper and that people that poor probably don't own homes, either.

And, as an aside, just imagine if that $555,000 a year went instead to provide subsidies to help make Internet access affordable which, in turn, could be used for all sorts of great purposes as opposed to the one purpose it is presently not accomplishing! The R-J Editorial Board would oppose such a cyber-welfare effort and tell people to go to the library to log on, right? Of course.

Finally, the R-J's subscription rate is about 170,000. (Probably less, but for the sake of argument, we'll be generous.) There are 2 million people in Las Vegas. This is a penetration of 8.5 percent. According to the Senate testimony, as much as 70 percent of residents have some form of at-home Internet access. That means that by a gigantic factor, the Internet is the more effective means of providing this information.

Ass. Paul Aizley, the Democrat who tried to change the law, told that Senate committee that the 2008 assessor rolls took up 456 pages of newsprint that required 40 million pages of paper and ink in 2008. The R-J has narrowed its margins, which may explain why this year's version is 120 pages heftier, but ultimately the outcome has to be similar. It's 9 pounds of newsprint times 170,000 and that's 1.5 million pounds of paper. Yikes.

I appreciate that that $555,000 is a goodly sum for the newspaper company and I would hate to see more colleagues lose their jobs. But, you see, I take them at their word when they write ad nauseum about being self-sufficient and about shrinking government.

Where's Glenn Cook or Vin Suprynowicz when it's their own salaries at stake? If they don't stand up against such waste even when it costs them and their company personally, I'll assume they were just faking their outrage -- as most people suspect anyway -- all along.


atdnext said...

What hypocrites. The R-J pontificators HATE, HATE, HATE "big guv'mint"... Except when it makes them money! What a joke.

But hey, at least I went on the web site and found out my condo is officially worth a little more than what I paid for it. Yay! (I know, I know, I'm one of the only non-underwater folks in all of Clark County.)

Jean said...

As one of the newly unemployed journalists in Las Vegas, I have to say points well taken--except one. It's not fair to figure the penetration as a percentage of population. It should be by households, as every member of a household has access to a newspaper delivered to a home. I hate to admit it, but if you figure the average household at 3.5 people (this is a guesstimate), that puts the R-J's penetration above 60 percent.

Jeff in OKC said...

i don't like this post, Steve. How many "good" papers nationwide are you throwing under the same bus? If all newspapers went to electronic delivery they would not have the financial problems they have today, yet how many jobs would be lost in printing and distribution? And what is the multiple of those jobs compared to the reporter and editorial jobs being cut that you run loving post-mortems on in your blog?
This isn't meant to be harsh, yet I feel that the current newspaper model is broken, and all sources of making the transition to electronic delivery should be preserved for the short time involved (3 to 5 years).


Jean: Actually, if we use your figure of 3.5 per household, then there are 571,429 households. A circ of 170,000 would be less than 30 percent penetration. The Internet still wins.

And, Jeff, while I am greatly sorry for the loss of jobs -- and a bit resentful of the notion that I "love" listing the fallen -- this is welfare plain and simple and it's something the R-J abhors and attacks in every other form.

If we want to have a serious discussion of ways the government can help the Old Media transition, there are lots of conversations out there on that topic. But the state handing a pity job to the R-J at the expense of using that money for something the public actually needs is not a long-term answer to propping up a business model that is failing fast.

This isn't about whether the paper is good or bad, Jeff. The R-J is not a bad paper, it's an extremely important Nevada institution. But they, like the rest of us, ought to either survive or fail in the marketplace. I have to believe that other states have already done away with this sort of thing if they ever had it in the first place.

It's a joke. It is easier, cheaper and more convenient to get this information online. Last week, everyone received postcards from the Assessor telling us our assessed valuation anyway. Why do we need to have it printed, too?

There's only one reason. Sherm Frederick is a hypocrite. He'll take his government bailout and corporate welfare with one hand and beat the crap out of everyone else who needs it with the other.


atdnext said...

Mr. Steve-

"The R-J is not a bad paper, it's an extremely important Nevada institution. But they, like the rest of us, ought to either survive or fail in the marketplace. I have to believe that other states have already done away with this sort of thing if they ever had it in the first place."

If California tried doing this with The LA Times, The SF Chronicle, The OC Register, The SD U-T, and all the other major CA papers, the state really would be bankrupt by now. I'm sure not even Texas, New York, or Florida would try something like this.

Oh yeah, and Shermie really is a hypocrite here. He whines and screams about "big guv'mint bailouts" all the time, yet he has no problem taking plenty for himself all the time. That's what really annoys me here. The R-J opinion page trashes the working poor and demonizes them every day over this or that manufactured "welfare scandal" and justifies horribly unfair and regressive tax policies that steals from the poor (and middle-class) to bequeath upon the super-rich, so I'm sorry but they get no sympathy from me for being called out for their hypocrisy on their very own "government welfare bailout".

Michael said...

I just wanted to say I thought this was a nice bit of reporting and some valid 'watchdog' reporting.

I'm not one that hopes that the printed media goes out of business, but there certainly seems to be better uses for that money, even if it was given to the RJ, which still would be an issue, perhaps they could invest it into their development, rather then wasting materials and resources on something that's no longer needed to be printed and distributed.

Perhaps they could develop a real 'podcast' for Sherm.

Anonymous said...

Great column, Steve! Hypocrisy is so nice to uncover.

Anonymous said...

Steve, this is great reporting and you should be aware that this is at least the third session in recent memory that the RJ has fought to keep this law in place - again the sole purpose so that they can continue their government largesse. Imagine how they would react if a commissioner spent this amount on neighborhood meetings providing citizen access to elected's and staff? Ask them how much they also paid a contract lobbyist whose sole job was to defeat this bill? I wonder how the laid off reporters feel about that additional expense? Assemblyman Aizley will try it again and we hope with better success.

Steve G said...

Very nice, Steve. That's how to wield the mighty pen.

cartman08 said...

The RJ is to actual quality journalism what GW Bush was to public speaking...and that's not 'misunderestimating' their importance (to paraphrase their favorite ex president.)
There is a reason why, while Vegas was the fastest growing city in America, the RJ limped along gaining minimal readership and garnering only Nevada-based press awards (which is the equivalent of winning a beauty contest at a leper colony...not much competition)
But I am sure ol' Sherm will be on top of this in his next column, pointing out how only Socialists and the like would not want to include this$500K boondoggle in his fish wrap.
Onward Christian soldiers and remember Jimmy 'the Groper' Gibbons in '10!!!