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Competing Newspapers Make Big Issue of Tiny-Type Legal Ads

August 08, 1985|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

It's not quite a newspaper war, and big bucks aren't involved, but feuds are brewing among South Bay community newspapers over legal notices.

That's right, legal notices--the tiny-type items buried in the classified-ad sections of most newspapers. State law requires governments to use them to announce new ordinances, public hearings and requests for bids.

In the South Bay, the money cities spend on legal notices is not much, ranging from about $400 a year in Palos Verdes Estates to about $36,000 in Torrance. The figures vary according to the amount of advertising and the newspaper used. Cities that use the Palos Verdes Peninsula News pay less than $4 a column inch; the Daily Breeze in Torrance charges nearly $12 a column inch.

Although the money isn't much, community newspapers seek legal ads because, as one publisher put it, "Every penny counts in this business."

Official Newspaper

And, as Jack Harpster, advertising director of the Breeze, said, "It's important to get the legal notices for a city because then you're recognized as the official newspaper of the city."

The newspapers' quest for money or prestige or both has reached a point that the New Times in Torrance, a year-old weekly newspaper, last month bought out the Lomita Headlight, a 4-year-old weekly, primarily for the right to run legal notices for Lomita, according to Miguel (Mike) Cano, general manager of the New Times.

And the Breeze, the largest newspaper published in the South Bay and its only daily, is having a legal tiff with the area's largest weekly, the Easy Reader, over which paper should get about $30,000 in legal notices from Redondo Beach. The Breeze is also attempting to protect its contract for Torrance's notices by challenging in court the New Times' effort to get them.

(The Los Angeles Times receives few legal notices from South Bay cities, a spokesman for the newspaper's advertising department said. The cost, $84 a column inch for an ad in all editions, makes it prohibitive for most cities looking to meet their legal obligation as cheaply as possible.)

Adjudication Needed

Only newspapers that have been "adjudicated" by a Superior Court judge to be general-interest papers in a particular city can run government ads, as well as legal notices from individuals, such as bankruptcy filings and notices of intent to do business under a fictitious name. The court must find that the newspaper has been published for 52 consecutive weeks and that advertising does not make up more than 75% of its content more than 50% of the time. The newspaper also must have some paid subscription.

A paper can be adjudicated for only one city, although through newspaper mergers and buy-outs a single newspaper could become adjudicated for additional cities. If a city has one or more adjudicated newspapers within its boundaries, it must place its ads in one of them. However, a city can also place ads in additional papers if it wishes to reach a larger circulation. If there is no adjudicated newspaper within a city, the city is free to advertise its notices in neighboring newspapers, usually the lowest bidder.

Private legal notices can be placed in any adjudicated newspaper, regardless of where the advertiser lives.

Bid Against Breeze

If the New Times succeeds in its effort to become adjudicated in Torrance, it could bid against the Breeze for the city's contract next year. The New Times had asked Torrance officials to withhold awarding this year's contract to the Breeze until the New Times received its adjudication, but the request came to late.

The New Times was scheduled to go to court last week for adjudication, but its attorney, Frank Rorie, asked for a postponement to Sept. 3 after Copley Press Inc., owner of the Breeze, filed an objection.

According to Cano of the New Times, his newspaper would have offered Torrance a bid of less than $6 a column inch, compared to the Breeze's $11.90 a column inch. Copley's attorney, Robert Tyler, said the petition challenges the New Times adjudication primarily on the grounds that the New Times, which is printed in Gardena but has offices in Torrance, is not published and printed in Torrance and does not have a bona fide list of paid subscribers.

Court Ruling

(The state Court of Appeal ruled last month that a newspaper does not have to be printed and published in the same city to be adjudicated for that city. The court said other factors, such as amount and type of news coverage, could be used to determine if a paper is generally circulated in a given city. Tyler said he has not reviewed the decision.)

Rorie said he has not studied the Breeze's claims and could not comment on them, but said he was not surprised by the objection.

"It's a matter of economics," he said, alluding to the Breeze's potential loss of the Torrance contract to the New Times.

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