by Bill Jackson - The Regional

August 17, 2011

People have grown accustomed to reading The Regional News This week which has, at least up until now, included county ads highlighting special notices, upcoming meetings, events and employment opportunities among other things. But such information might not be published here in the future.

In its wisdom, county council recently decided to cut back on advertising expenditures and issued a 28-page request-for-proposal (RFP) for local newspaper ads, seeking to avoid geographical duplication in distribution. However it fails to take into account that all four newspapers in Haldimand tend to have different readership.

While the decision from a cost standpoint seems somewhat logical, RFP requirements certainly rendered a different perspective.

Our graphic designer prepared three county ads that were to be included as part of our newspaper's bid. However, upon careful consideration of the RFP, owners Chris and Kevan Pickup decided they weren't going to be submitting one. Some terms of reference in the RFP seemed contrived, slanted and unwarranted.

The document asked for the bidders' history of involvement in Haldimand County (community projects not media related) in addition to "examples of other community related projects your company has been involved in within the County that were media related (printing/distribution content)."

How these examples correlate to future advertising is anybody's guess. I'd assume the county naturally wants to look good in the eyes of readers, but it's already done a good job of making one of our competitors shine. The Sachem, a chain-owned, syndicate paper, received an award at Haldimand's annual business breakfast this spring, as reported in a Regional News article along with a picture and caption.

We don't generally feel bitter about another paper receiving an award or want to take away from the positive things it does for this community. But such recognition does beg a question. Should a publicly-owned corporation controlled by government single out certain newspapers by bestowing awards and exclusive advertisements? It isn't the first time perhaps, but that doesn't mean it's right.

To tell the truth, our paper hasn't boasted much about our community contributions in the past. Doing so is only self-serving and quite frankly, a small, privately-run operation can only do so much in this day and age.

We've recently attempted to highlight our involvement a bit more in order to keep up with the Jones's and other papers that benefit from government funding or ads funnelled from outside this community as part of a conglomerate. The Regional News has been locally owned and operated for close to four decades and gets absolutely no funding from anywhere but its own operation.

While the county highlights supporting local, small businesses in promotional materials, the RFP also asked for the financial position of bidders in its RFP for newspaper advertising. It also required $2 million in liability insurance, a cross-liability clause, WSIB certification, the list goes on.

Some requests would be more understandable if Chris and Kevan were proposing to build say, a 300-home subdivision. But for 1/4-1/2 page newspaper ads?

Arguably, from a legal standpoint, some assurances might be necessary. Bit Chris and Kevan also realized that the county reserved the right to interview them, inspect equipment, modify "any and all" requirements before awarding a contract and wanted "value-added" services, including weekly space for an editorial prepared by Haldimand County.

This paper frequently prints county press releases that are sent to us verbatim, and has also printed any letters sent to us by the mayor, but also reserves the option to do so, and edit them as deemed fit.

There comes a time when a newspaper must put its foot down to stay at arm's length of government.

We'd like to stay objective and avoid any interpretation of collusion with the county corporation.