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SB 183: Novstrup Fails to Secure Favor for New Aberdeen Newspaper

Senator Al Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen) proposed a bill that would help an Aberdeen business other than his own. Alas, he couldn’t get that bill through committee, either.

Senator Novstrup proposed Senate Bill 183 to repeal the requirement that, to qualify as a “legal newspaper” which can be designated and paid by local governments to publish official notices of meetings, ordinances, and other government information, a publication must have been in  operation for at least one year.

Senator Novstrup took SB 183 to Senate Local Government last week on Wednesday. Novstrup told the committee about the decline of Aberdeen’s local paper, the Aberdeen American News. Novstrup said the once-local paper is down to one employee and is printed in the morning in Des Moines. He said that in the good old days, the Saturday paper would have highlights from Friday night basketball games. He referred obliquely to “a controversial event” in the Senate that occurred at 2:30 in the afternoon on Wednesday the previous week (“I didn’t think too much about it, went on with my life, and didn’t pay any attention” said Novstrup of the historic suspension and censure of Senator Julie Frye-Mueller) and didn’t appear in the American News until Saturday (and probably, said Novstrup, was written by someone who didn’t live in Aberdeen).

Novstrup spoke favorably of “an upstart company” that is trying to fill the local news void. His Democratic Aberdeen neighbor Troy McQuillen has launched the new Aberdeen Insider, but Novstrup did not name that genuine local news operation; instead he referred by name to The Dakota Scout, the alternative newspaper based in Sioux Falls run by slightly more conservative former Argus Leader reporters Joe Sneve and Jonathan Ellis.

Novstrup brought full-time Aberdeen lobbyist Julie Johnson to testify that Aberdeen is at risk of having no local paper that would qualify as an official newspaper. Johnson did mention Aberdeen Insider by name, but she did not explain why the AAN might cease to meet the legal requirements for an official paper or whether AI is poised to satisfy the requirements other than the one-year rule (translation: Aberdeen’s professional lobbyist didn’t do a really great job of lobbying for this particular bill).

Leading opponent testimony was David Bordewyk, South Dakota Newspaper Association chief. Bordewyk said the one-year requirement demonstrates that a newspaper chosen to run legal notices is “viable, reliable, and distributing to a bona fide community of subscribers and readers.” He said striking the one-year requirement would “create confusion” and possible abuse of public-notice laws. He said the one-year requirement protects taxpayers from “questionable and opportunistic publications seeking only to gain public-notice revenue.” Bordewyk said almost all states require one year for new publications to qualify for status as official newspapers, and some states require two or three.

SDNA also sent lawyer and super-lobbyist Justin Smith to second Bordewyk’s opponent testimony. The one-year rule exists to make publishers demonstrate “stability and longevity”, which is something we want from private companies entrusted with publishing official government information. Smith noted that one year isn’t really that long and that the two publishers (Sneve for Dakota Scout and Doug Cole for the Belle Fourche Beacon) that spoke to Senate Local Government on February 1 in favor of another bill easing requirements for legal newspapers, Senate Bill 80, agreed that the one-year requirement is sensible and fair. Smith said the new Aberdeen publication wants to take legal notice contracts immediately. “Ignoring the public policies behind the one-year requirement, the proponent asks the committee not to lower the bar but to totally remove that bar.” Smith said a new publication may provide superior content, “but the public needs to see that same level continue for at least a year to know the company is not a flash in the pan. Permanence of the archives is one of the hallmarks of legal notices.” Smith said SB 183 was not trying to innovate or accommodate a new business model that may prove itself a reliable steward of public notices; “instead this bill truly changes the rules in favor of a single brand new business to give them a pass on a requirement that every other newspaper has had to meet for decades.” Smith suggested that Aberdeen Insider is trying to snag public-notice contracts now to cover start-up costs (although, with no emergency clause, SB 183 wouldn’t make those contracts possible for AI until July), and a new newspaper should not survive “only because it subsists on the revenue from legal notices” (reminder: subsist and subsidy come from the same root).

Smith noted that Novstrup and Johnson referred to problems with the current Aberdeen newspaper of record, but no other community came to lambaste its local paper, and “No issues have been cited with the newspaper’s continuing publication of the legal notices in the Aberdeen community.” Smith said, “The proponents don’t like their current local paper and want to change the law to help out a brand new business they do like.” He noted that Johnson herself said the word “viable”, and it is all the more important in the era of swift Internet business start-ups and collapses that we have standards like the one-year rule to demonstrate viability. (Translation: Novstrup and Johnson failed to make their case, and Smith said so.)

While Novstrup and Johnson failed to bring forward any active publisher to tell their story, SDNA very effectively deployed member Jill Meier, another victim of Gannett’s inability to preserve local newspapers and local jobs, now GM of the Brandon Valley Media Group, to speak of launching her own local newspaper and making it go for almost two years before receiving any public notice revenue. She said she’s worked hard to build her paper from zero to circulation of over 1,000.. Meier didn’t slag any of the other news startups, but she said “you’ve got to earn your stripes” and SB 183 feels like an effort to “give… away” legal newspaper status.

In rebuttal, Novstrup said the one-year rule was good in 1985 but doesn’t work today (he did not explain why). He said the Legislature should trust local officials. He said Aberdeen officials have complained to him that the Aberdeen American News has failed to publish a press release about a newly hired city economic development person (um, Al: a press release is not a legal notice). He asserted that numerous local governments and organizations support his bill (but he said he didn’t know for sure, and those entities weren’t in the room testifying, so Novstrup’s rebuttal assertion sounds like typical Trumpist fabrication of a “many people” majority).

Recognizing the superior testimony offered by the opponents, Senate Local Government killed SB 183 on a 6–1 vote.

When I heard the Aberdeen Insider was starting up to put local reporters to work and tell Aberdeen’s story, I immediately thought, “Hooray! Let’s abandon the Gannett zombie paper entirely and make McQuillen’s outfit the legal newspaper!” But I can see the sense of the one-year rule. Publications that want to handle the august task of publishing and archiving public notices need to demonstrate they have staying power. Staying on the beat consistently for one year isn’t a very high bar for receiving that privilege.

If a case is to be made to the contrary, Aberdeen evidently needs a Senator and a lobbyist with better relationships and communication skills to make that case.


  1. Jake 2023-02-13 10:27

    This to me boils down to the attempts to gain taxpayer dollars from everyone to benefit a “start-up” company or entity so not as much private $$$ have to go to get the business off the ground and stable. GOP of SD steadily lean toward socialism while trying to deflect that very trait off on the opposing party.

    Similar, is their stance here in SD (and other ‘red’ states) to give state treasury dollars to “follow the student” by giving state funds ear-marked for ALL students to those who want to ‘pick and choose’ who they teach. These $$$ go to subsidize those (maybe even a couple of teachers, not necessarily religious schools) who want to create a business and use state education funds that “follow the student” to cover their startup costs! I’m all in favor of alternate choices, but there is a limited amount of tax resources to cover each one of us in our desires for alternatives. “Freedom” cries need to be thought out a little, first, people.

  2. P. Aitch 2023-02-13 11:17

    Why People Ignore Facts and Only Read News They Agree With
    – – These and more studies exemplify that modern journalism is dead.
    – A study found that the higher an individual’s IQ, the better they are at coming up with reasons to support a position—but only a position that they agree with.
    – Another study found that we are even willing to give up the chance to earn money to avoid reading opinions we disagree with. Participants had the choice to read opinions they agreed with about political topics like same-sex marriage, guns, or abortion for the chance to win $7. Alternatively, they could read opinions they disagreed with for the chance to win $10. About two thirds of participants chose to read the opinions they agreed with, giving up the chance to earn more money.

  3. bearcreekbat 2023-02-13 11:40

    P.Aitch, not that it matters but I could find no study in the link you provided that “the higher an individual’s IQ, the better they are at coming up with reasons to support a position—but only a position that they agree with.” That idea seems to contradict one of the key exercises in higher education: students are required to write credible arguments supporting both sides of a particular idea, which necesarily would expose them to information that eithert, not only, conformed with or contracted their preconcieved notions.

  4. P. Aitch 2023-02-13 13:21

    BCB – The study isn’t amplified or dissected in this Psychology Today article but the reputation of the periodical is quite stellar.
    Paragraph four:
    – A number of studies document the many ways in which our political party distorts our reasoning. One study found that people who had strong math skills were only good at solving a math problem if the solution to the problem conformed to their political beliefs. Liberals were only good at solving a math problem, for instance, if the answer to that problem showed that gun control reduced crime. Conservatives were only good at solving this problem if the solution showed that gun control increased crime. Another study found that the higher an individual’s IQ, the better they are at coming up with reasons to support a position—but only a position that they agree with.
    – Perhaps your exercise of writing credible arguments on both sides was among students who were tasked in order to get a grade and the Psychology Today study was among people with 100% free will and not within the closed environment of an educational institution?
    – My assertion is that people only believe things they agree with and won’t even ponder the opposite position anymore.

  5. Mark Anderson 2023-02-13 15:05

    I used to love conversing with the editor of the Aberdeen American News every afternoon at the Elks club. He used to swing in, except for Lent, and down five or six drinks before going home for supper. He was only there an hour. A very fast newsman.

  6. Mark Anderson 2023-02-13 15:20

    Bearcreekbat, in high school my friend Don McLaughlin and I were both put on the negative side in debate, the exact opposite of who we were. Now that was fun and instructive.

  7. bearcreekbat 2023-02-13 15:30

    P.Aitch, I did see that math comment, but I guess I drew a different conclusion than you have drawn, and, of course you may be right. Another interesting seeming dichotomy is the speculation that “people with 100% free will” might choose differently than people “within the closed environment of an educational institution,” contrasted with the seemingingly anti-free will proposition that “people only believe things they agree with and won’t even ponder the opposite position anymore.” If people have free will then it would impossible to accurately predict how all or most people might respond to a choice of what to believe in. Anyway, I seem to be straying a bit from Cory’s topic so as you sometimes put it TLWIY.

  8. bearcreekbat 2023-02-13 16:06

    Mark, I thought that debate might be another example and kind of hoped Cory might pipe in given his debate coaching history. How did being on the opposite side affect your ability to ponder the opposite side of your initial viewpoint and/or Don’s?

  9. P. Aitch 2023-02-13 16:45

    Thank you BCB for the pleasant discourse. You

  10. Mark Anderson 2023-02-13 18:34

    bearcreekbat, it made me realize how easy it was to be a conservative. I also look for flaws in a better way. For instance, even now everyone believes that Norwegians have it down. They seem to, but they basically got rid of at least a quarter of their country that came to America. It really was the huddled masses too. No rich people came. So their socialism is great but it comes with caveats.

  11. Arlo Blundt 2023-02-13 23:10

    I’ve suffered through the consolidation of daily papers with the resulting decrease in local coverage including county and municipal government, local news, even business news, a sector which advertises in these publications, and local high school sports, probably the most heavily read section of these papers. Instead we have papers printed and edited far from our locality, by people with no idea of the issues and ideas important to local life. It’s very sad. Yet, talking with some weekly editors, I find their subscriptions are up, substantially. People love to read local news and will support those papers. The “buy outs” are part of a changing landscape for news but people still rely on local publications for local news and that’s a sign of a strong community.

  12. All Mammal 2023-02-13 23:25

    I found P., Mr. A and BCB’s discourse to be so dang pleasant, I almost kicked a small pet. Play on, playasÜ

    “No sane man can be happy, for to him life is real, and he sees what a fearful thing it is. Only the mad can be happy, and not many of those”-The Mysterious Stranger. Unabridged.
    It’s no secret I’d take crazy and happy over a brainy puss any day.

  13. P. Aitch 2023-02-14 04:39

    @DaveFU – You need to be better at insults if you want to criticize me. I’ll send you home crying to your Step Mother again. Remember how she stole your father’s attention?

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