Sexist Asbury Park Press blunder could cost the entire newspaper industry in New Jersey, here’s why

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FREEHOLD – When an Asbury Park Press reporter published an Anti-Semitic caption in its newspaper depicting a Jewish nurse administering COVID-19 vaccines as “f-cking hot nurse” and “JAP”, nobody could have imagined that the episode would send shockwaves throughout the New Jersey newspaper industry.

Some governments are using the incident as an excuse to fight the state law that requires municipalities and government entities to pay high prices to publish public notices in newspapers few actually read.

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Immediately after the incident, Lakewood Township said it will pull its ads from the newspaper.

The issue has been a source of contention for years. Governor Chris Christie tried to fight it but lost to the newspaper lobbying industry. The Asbury Park Press receives millions of dollars annually in taxpayer-subsidized public notice advertisements.

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A single notice of a Sheriff’s sale in Ocean County this week cost the county taxpayers $210 with the Asbury Park Press. It was a few paragraphs of legally required text that was read on Thursday by the few people who still read the hard copy edition of the newspaper.

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The Sheriff’s Department alone published over 50 public notices in the newspaper in the past 7 days, totaling nearly $1,000.

Now, the Monmouth County Commissioners are pushing to overturn that law and they will likely be followed by others.

State law mandates that public notices are published and receiving those ads is a big part of what keeps many newspapers in New Jersey afloat. If overturned the Asbury Park Press can lose up to several million dollars per year in revenue. That figure has never been disclosed by the paper and compiling such a figure would be a monumental task.

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Commissioners condemn sexist, anti-Semitic newspaper caption

Now, the Monmouth County Board of County Commissioners demands the legislative delegation representative of Monmouth County introduce legislation amending the law requiring “hard copy publication” in a “newspaper of general circulation” or, alternatively, affording all political subdivisions the alternative to publish electronically as a means for better distribution and as a cost savings to taxpayers.

The law was enacted back when everyone got the daily newspaper. Their print circulation of the newspaper is estimated between 60,000 and 90,000 copies daily, serving a population of 2.1 million residents in Middlesex, Monmouth, and Ocean Counties.

“The current laws that require public notices to be published in hard-copy are outdated and do not allow local governments to use online platforms that reach a larger audience,” said Commissioner Nick DiRocco. “Instead, State law requires our citizens to purchase hard copy publications in order to access important public information. To increase transparency and save crucial tax dollars, the Legislature should change this antiquated law.”

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A Pew Research study found that in 2021, 71% of Americans get their news online at least in part each day. The print news industry is in decline as 300 more newspapers shut down during 2020 and only 3% of U.S. adults say they still read the newspaper each day as their primary source of news.