The Press-Register continues to dominate media news this week, with still more fallout from last week’s staff shakeup, a renamed advertising circular and the Mobile County Probate Court taking away the paper’s ability to print their legal advertisements.

Probate Court Judge Don Davis announced on his website Feb. 2 that the P-R would no longer be able to handle legal notices associated with his court due to what Davis says are repeated instances of improperly handling the ads and billing. The P-R is one of three publications in Mobile County allowed by law to handle legal advertisements — the others being the Citronelle Call News and the Mobile Beacon.

Gulf Coast Life

By law newspapers that can run such ads must be “newspapers of general circulation,” a designation that includes a stipulation the newspapers have publications class postal permits. This rule precludes such fine newspapers as the one you’re reading from being able to accept legal advertising because in order to get the proper postal permit at least half of our circulation would have to be paid.

In the interest of full disclosure, Lagniappe is currently engaged in an effort to try to get that regulation amended to take out the postal permit requirement, as we see zero effect such a permit has on the quality of a newspaper or its ability to properly inform its readership. In cities affected by the Newhouse Corporation’s decision to cut back on its newspapers’ print schedules, there exists a situation in which, should the company decide to completely do away with the printed paper, there might be no good alternative for placing such advertising.

The Call News has indeed seen a good increase in legal advertising over the past year or two, even though its primary distribution is outside Mobile. The Beacon, as far as we can tell, has not published legal ads recently at least.

For probate court advertising, that situation is closer to becoming a reality. Most such advertising has to deal with the commencement of someone’s estate upon his/her death. Notice must be published, and it is up to the probate judge to ensure it has properly been done.

“During the past 10 months the Court’s staff has encountered ongoing, significant problems with Alabama Media Group’s Press-Register. Despite repetitive communications (initiated by the Court’s staff), these problems continue. We currently have 13 documented instances where the Press-Register failed to publish notices of the commencement of decedent’s estate cases after request by the Court and tender of payment. In these 13 cases, the checks and publication notice were sent to the Press-Register in July 2014 and it was first realized in November 2014 that there had been no creditor notice published. The Court’s staff has checked with the lawyers in these cases and confirmed that the lawyers’ checks have not been paid by their bank,” an announcement on the Mobile County Probate Court website reads. 

“In two other cases, legal notices to creditors were mailed to the Press-Register by the Court in the Fall of 2014 but were just published this month. Surprisingly, one of these publication notices was sent in the same envelope and with the same cover letter as a notice that was timely published. We have also encountered instances where the compliance affidavit described above has not been promptly sent to the Court by the Press-Register.”

The announcement goes on to encourage lawyers who have published legal ads in the Press-Register to verify it was done so properly.

Efforts to get comment on the situation from the Press-Register’s corporate operator, Alabama Media Group, were unsuccessful.

Davis’ website also mentions several problems regarding billing over the past 10 months, saying a “flat” fee that had been negotiated some time ago was being ignored in favor of billing that cost more and caused confusion.

“The billing issues continue, even when telephone calls and email messages are addressed by the Press-Register’s staff,” the announcement read.

Davis explained the issues were enough that he felt he needed to bar creditor notices from being published in the Press-Register.

“Due to the failure and/or refusal of the Press-Register to address the aforesaid matters, I feel compelled to end the practice of legal notices as described herein being published in the Press-Register. This action is regrettable but apparently necessary. The Court’s staff resources are limited and the Court’s staff can not be expected to continue to wrestle with the above described problem matters, when there is seemingly no concerted effort on the part of the Press-Register to address and solve the problems once and for all,” he said in the notice.

Editorial leadership
News continues to leak out of the new offices at the corner of Royal and Dauphin Streets concerning who is running the show at the Press-Register after last week’s abrupt layoff of seven employees, including Randy Kennedy, who was overseeing editorial duties for the paper.

While the leadership at Alabama Media Group has refused any comment on the statewide layoffs, insiders have offered some idea as to at least a bit of the reorganization. According to multiple insiders, Jessica Sawyer has been named the news manager for the AMG’s Mobile hub, which places her in charge of all reporters. Those sources say Sawyer was a news clerk for a couple of years in Baldwin County before coming to the Mobile office and had worked for Jackie Byrd, who was fired last week.

No word on much else about Sawyer’s background.

New name, same mess
And it appears the advertising circular that used to be known as Bargain Finder has had its name changed to Gulf Coast Life.

As usual, when asked for comment about what’s up with the change, the honchos at Alabama Media Group were quiet as church mice. Whether the change has anything to do with Mayor Sandy Stimpson identifying Bargain Finder and the Yes circular as two of the city’s main sources of litter is just a guess. But seeing as AMG has fallen back on the First Amendment as its defense for continuing to throw thousands and thousands of these wet sacks of ads in yards, driveways and vacant lots across town that may be the reason they gave it a name that sounds more like a publication.

On just a quick walk around the neighborhood the other day, two of the GCLs had broken open and their contents had blown all down Dauphin Street.

Personally I think it’s time those of us who are tired of having these things thrown in our yards to gather them up and have a “Throwback Thursday.” If they’re not litter when they’re thrown in our yards without request, then how can they be litter when they’re tossed in front of the Press-Register’s office at Dauphin and Royal? It’s time to exercise our First Amendment rights Mobile.