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By Randy Economy
American On-Line, the owner of the controversial local internet websites known as “The Patch” have declared an all-out assault on print newspapers in California by sponsoring legislation that would threaten the system of printed public notices of meetings at city halls, school districts, water districts, county halls of administration and other public agencies.
The legislation is also being championed by Lakewood Assemblyman Anthony Rendon.
Assembly Bill 642 would allow internet only entities to become a “newspaper of general circulation” and publish public notices, and it could come before Sacramento lawmakers as early as March 23.
“The criteria used to establish an internet-only entity to be the official newspaper for a community is so weak it would allow any blogger or hobbyist with a laptop, tablet or smart phone to qualify,” said Brian Hews, Publisher and Owner of Los Cerritos Community Newspaper and the La Mirada Lamplighter.
“AB 642 requires no brick-and-mortar presence, no business office, and therefore, likely no local publisher, editors, reporters, local ad staff, production and circulation staff. A single regional editor aggregating content from the worldwide web and rewriting news credited at great expense by real newspapers would qualify,” Hews said.
Hews has been a newspaper publisher since 1994 and has been in the business more than 30 years.
“AB 642 would allow the adjudication of a petri dish,” Hews said. “This will kill some great local newspapers.”
“Deflecting rumors American On-Line was going to pull the plug on The Patch or at least recreate it to operate without humans, they have admitted it continues to be experimental with local Patch sites,” Hews said.
An AOL spokesman recently admitted that “we test different models in an effort to best serve our existing communities and our future ones.”
Locally published Patch websites in Cerritos and several other surrounding communities throughout Southern California are considered by many in the newspaper publishing profession to be “heavily influenced by local elected politicians and government officials who are in search of fluffy, nonobjective content,” Hews said.
Los Cerritos Community Newspaper is currently being considered for two Pulitzer Prize Awards in the categories of Investigative Series and Public Affairs Reporting for their highly touted investigation into alleged criminal activities deep inside the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration and Assessor’s Office.
“Internet-only publications, especially The Patch are undependable, have no permanency, are subject to constant change and susceptible to technology failure. Internet connections fall, server’s crash, links die and websites are hacked all the time,” Hews said.
“One thing we have proven here at Los Cerritos Community Newspaper and the La Mirada Lamplighter is that community newspapers have never been so strong, independent from government influence and has put elected officials and politicians on their toes,” Hews said.
Hews has reached out to Assemblyman Rendon with a phone call to his office on Thursday, March 14.
“We endorsed and urged our readers to support the election of Assemblyman Rendon in 2012, and we look forward to meeting with him sometime over the next week,” Hews added.
Los Cerritos Community Newspaper and the La Mirada Lamplighter is delivered to 45,000 homes each Friday, and has an internet readership of more than 100,000 to 150,000 readers each month.
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