Court of Appeals rules for The Catoosa County News in legal organ case

The newspaper industry earned an important and beneficial decision upholding local legal organ newspapers this week.

On March 5, the Court of Appeals decided the case of Catoosa County, Georgia v. Rome News Media d/b/a The Catoosa County News. Chief Judge Dillard wrote the opinion and the other two judges concurred.

David Hudson, GPA General Counsel

The dispute before the Court arose from a decision of the Catoosa County probate judge, sheriff and clerk of court to change the legal organ newspaper from The Catoosa County News, located in the county seat of Ringgold, to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, which claimed to have 5,000 subscribers in Catoosa County.

The Catoosa County News brought suit in the Superior Court based on its contention that it was the only newspaper actually published in Catoosa County and thus the only one that met the requirements of O.C.G.A. 9-13-142 that the legal organ newspaper be published in the county.

The local judges in the circuit recused and a senior judge from Marietta presided. The trial court ruled in favor of The Catoosa County News and overruled the decision of the three county officials.

On appeal, the issue was whether the newspaper in Chattanooga was “published within the county” and “published in this state.” The Chattanooga paper contended that it met the requirements of the statute because copies of its paper were placed in circulation in Catoosa County.

The Court of Appeals disagreed because that would not be the sensible interpretation of the legal organ statute or in conformity with a 1932 decision of the Georgia Supreme Court, Carter v. Land. The Carter case decided that publishing a newspaper “means something more than the mere distribution of the newspaper” or simply “having it entered at the post office for distribution.” If that was all that was required, it would not serve the purpose of the statute to patronize in-county industry and build up local institutions.

The Carter case further emphasized that similar statutes in other states had held the publication of a newspaper to mean: where the paper “was composed, set up and placed in forms at such office,” where the newspaper is “composed, printed, issued and distributed to the public,” or where the newspaper has “its home.”

The facts of the present case showed that “home” of the Chattanooga Times Free Press is in Chattanooga, Tenn. That is where the newspaper has its “headquarters.” Mere distribution of a newspaper does not qualify to make the newspaper published within Catoosa County.

Lastly, the Court of Appeals noted that there has been a significant change in how news is disseminated since the Carter case was decided in 1932 or the legal organ statute was last amended in 1999. It noted that while it might be sensible to update or revise O.C.G.A. 9-13-142, it would be a task for the legislature and not the courts. It also noted that “online publishing” was not at issue in this case.

As a matter of interest, the Court of Appeals noted in a footnote that it appreciated the “thoughtful submission” by GPA of an amicus brief.

This is an important and beneficial decision upholding local legal organ newspapers. It is also a signal, in these times of newspaper consolidation, of functions that need to be kept in the county to ensure continued legal organ qualification.

— David Hudson, GPA General Counsel

McDuffie Progress offering a range of digital services

A small weekly newspaper in Thomson, Ga., is working with the other newspapers in its ownership group to offer digital advertising services to its community.

The McDuffie Progress offers a full range of digital services through its parent company, Lancaster Management Inc., of Gadsden, Ala., and its partner, Lancaster owns nearly two-dozen newspapers in the Southeast and Midwest.

The 3,000-circulation Progress can serve ads through site retargeting and geo-fencing, which sends ads for a business to people based on whether they’ve ever visited the business website or where the people are located. It also targets potential customers through the sites they visit or searches they conduct online.

Larger media and marketing companies have provided these services for years, but rarely do smaller community newspapers have the resources to do it.

Wayne Parham, The McDuffie Progress

By teaming up, Lancaster’s newspapers have offered the digital ad services since last summer. “We were able to partner with a company across 20 papers, and the deal was structured with them,” said Progress Publisher Wayne Parham. “They knew we could drive ad impressions to make us a decent customer.”

Parham said the newspaper has about a dozen digital accounts, including a coin shop, a dive shop, an insurance agent, a realtor, a financial adviser, a photographer, a dentist, a farm supply store, a cigar shop and a t-shirt maker.

Parham, who handles ad sales along with other duties at the newspaper, says the digital sales pitches with local businesses include a question that papers should be asking when talking about print too — by asking how much a customer is worth to the business.

By demonstrating how many customers the newspaper can push, or pull, into the business through advertising, it’s easy to show a potential advertiser a return on investment.

For instance, for the dental office, The Progress can show that in one month, it made 40,000 impressions (ads seen by a potential customer). The ad drew 730 click-throughs, or times when it was clicked to get to the office’s website. That’s a conversion rate of 1.8 percent that beats the industry standard of .8 percent to 1 percent.

In addition, The Progress can show that it had 137 campaign conversions — “unique individuals that we targeted [with ads] and, later, their cell phone was detected in that office,” Parham said. It can also show that eight people who were in a dentist’s office 20 miles away and were targeted with digital ads for the newspaper’s client later visited that office. Seven others came from another dentist’s office to the dentist being featured by The Progress.

Knowing how much a customer is worth and then using that type of data to show how many customers were driven to the business demonstrates return on investment that sophisticated advertisers are seeking today.

The digital advertising system used by The Progress allows ads to be served to specific geographic locations — such as dental offices — or to specific people based on searches they’ve made or places they or their devices have visited online or physically.

For the t-shirt company, which was eager to work with schools, ads were targeted to the local board of education office. Of the teachers and staff that saw the ads, a dozen were later tracked at the apparel maker.

Community-based businesses — the ones with which small-circulation newspapers are most likely to already have relationships — are perfect for these types of digital-advertising initiatives. “It’s easier to get your foot in door with someone you have a relationship with,” Parham said, though he noted that it can be difficult to get a client to devote the time a detailed digital sales presentation can take.

“The right customers are the ones that aren’t big enough to use marketing agencies,” Parham said. “The seed has to be planted before then so that when they get big enough, we’re already there. You have to find the right niche opportunity.”

For more on the digital advertising program offered by The Progress, click here: Digital Marketing

Buffington book looks at infamous Georgia murder

Last fall, Georgia newspaper publisher Mike Buffington released the second book of his publishing career — a look at a 50-year-old murder that put a national spotlight on crime and corruption in northeast Georgia.

“A Conspiracy of Silence” details the 1967 car-bombing murder of Jackson County Solicitor General Floyd Hoard, a reform-minded prosecutor who was battling local moonshiners and complacent government officials who gave them a wide berth in which to operate.

Mike Buffington

Buffington is co-publisher of The Jackson Herald in Jefferson, Ga., where the murder took place.

“We did a series of articles in 2017 on the 50th anniversary of [Hoard’s death],” Buffington said. “It got such a strong reaction that we took them as a starting point and did more research to put the book together.”

Buffington has personal ties to the Hoard story. Before he was the county prosecutor, Hoard was editor of The Herald for about six months. Buffington and his brother, Scott, grew up with Hoard’s four children.

One of Hoard’s children, Richard, published a book about the case in 1994. It was a personal reminiscence of his father and the effect the murder had on the son and his family.

“A Conspiracy of Silence” is focused on the atmosphere that led to the killings and the people who planned it. “The whole case is fascinating,” Buffington said. “You could not make up some of the stuff that led up to the murder.”

At the time of Hoard’s death, Jackson County had become a hotbed of moonshining and car theft, and local officials were powerless — or chose to be — to stop it.

When Hoard became solicitor, he began to take action against the illegal interests, who struck back by killing Hoard with a car bomb on Aug. 7, 1967. Five men plotted the murder and were later convicted on charges related to it. Since the book was published, the sister and ex-girlfriend of one of the men contacted Buffington, and he may update it with new information.

Buffington’s first book, “Please, No More Stupid Articles,” is a collection of about 150 columns from The Herald, and he said the next, a history book of the area, is a few years down the road.

Buffington is a former president of both Georgia Press Association and National Newspaper Association. Last year, he was chosen as the winner of NNA’s James O. Amos Award, one of the highest tributes in community journalism given for distinguished community service. With his brother, Scott, he is co-publisher of five weekly newspapers.


We’ve said it before; we’ll say it again: If we aren’t telling our communities the good news about our products, no one will. Great job here by Michael Prochaska of The Oconee Enterprise, and he shared this on the GPA Content-Sharing Network where other newspapers can download and use it.

Everyone benefits from newspaper ads

By Michael Prochaska

The Oconee Enterprise, Watkinsville

America is blessed with a free and independent press. But while journalism is free from censorship and independent of government oversight, the production of a newspaper is far from cheap and very much dependent on support from consumers.

Michael Prochaska,
The Oconee Enterprise

This newspaper, like any other, derives revenue from two main sources: readership and advertising. The journalists here provide an essential service by informing citizens about issues that directly affect them. Advertising reps play an equally vital part in the health and vitality of this community by giving local businesses, organizations and political candidates a platform to educate the public and grow their following.

According to a 2016 study by American Opinion Research, two-thirds of Georgia adult consumers use a newspaper product during an average week.

When asked to identify a local advertising source one relies on most to find out what’s for sale, printed newspapers and newspaper websites got the highest response with 41 percent. The second highest was the Internet at 19 percent, followed by shoppers at 8 percent, local television at
6 percent and social media at 5 percent. The remaining portions of the pie chart included national television, word-of-mouth, radio and other.

Another reason to advertise in a local newspaper is to support local journalism. Indeed, there is a separation of editorial content and advertising, but both areas contribute to the larger purpose of a newspaper: being the heartbeat of a community.

We want The Oconee Enterprise to be a place where one goes for local news and local deals. It’s here that one will find restaurant scores and restaurant promotions, in-depth reporting on zoning procedures and groundbreakings or ribbon cuttings. A newspaper is one of the few platforms in which a critical analysis of a candidate can coexist with a political ad.

A story about the county fighting a lawsuit shares space with crime reports, gardening advice, a crossword puzzle, land sales, letters to the editor, obituaries, sports coverage and, of course, advertising.

Advertising covers everything from store specials to church chicken mulls, and unlike the glut of noise on Facebook, newspaper advertising sticks out and sticks around. Weekly newspapers have a wide reach and long shelf life, which makes them more attractive to advertisers, according to the analysis by American Opinion Research. Half of adults polled made a purchase during an average 30-day period because of something they saw or read in a printed newspaper or newspaper website.

There are valid advantages to advertising on Facebook, but given its reputation for dishonesty and propagating misinformation, advertising dollars are better served supporting community journalism rather than a corporate behemoth.

Internet advertising contributed, in part, to the layoffs of about 2,100 people in the media business last month, including crucial positions at weekly and daily newspapers run by McClatchy and Gannett.

Newspapers will always be competing for ad dollars with radio, television, billboards and even coupon books. But none of those platforms are a real threat to the future of journalism.

It’s been a tradition among some politicians to run “thank-you” ads in The Enterprise the week after an election. It costs them money despite no perk in gaining votes.

But these ads do something special. By advertising after a defeat or victory, these politicians earn the respect of readers for going out of their way to express gratitude and for supporting a local business: The Enterprise.


Michael Prochaska is editor of The Oconee Enterprise of Watkinsville. He can be reached at