As you may have heard, the MLive Media Group announced that it was ending publication of the Advance newspapers, effective with the final edition on January 27, 2019. Many communities use the Advance newspapers for publication, and will now have to find an alternative.
Zoning notices, election notices, notice of budget hearings and the synopsis of meetings require publication in a “newspaper of general circulation.” The State law requirements for a qualifying “newspaper” are that it must be:
- Printed in English
- Have a bona fide list of paid subscribers or have been published not less than weekly for two years
- Be “of general circulation” in the community for at least one year
- Average 25% news and editorial content on an annual basis
What “of general circulation” means is not defined by the statute, but the newspaper must be circulated among or available to everyone in the community and not aimed at a particular trade or classification. If the newspaper is mailed or has a number of subscribers within the community or is placed in the community at stores or other locations, then it may meet the definition of being “of general circulation.”
The Advance was only circulated to Sunday subscribers of the Grand Rapids Press; it was not available on newsstands or otherwise widely circulated. So, as a practical matter, it was not a widely available newspaper toward the end of its life.
The Grand Rapids Press would meet the definition of a newspaper of general circulation within Kent County and perhaps some parts of adjacent counties. However, the experience with the Grand Rapids Press is that the advertisements are more costly than the Advance or other qualifying weekly newspapers in the area. Your community could take a fresh look at whether there might be some other local or weekly newspapers in the area which would meet the qualification of being a newspaper of general circulation, and that might be less costly.
In addition, it has been customary practice to include legal descriptions in rezoning, special land use and variance notices, which are sometimes lengthy and add to the cost of publication. Under the Zoning Enabling Act, publication of an address and a location description is sufficient; a legal description is not mandatory. Publication costs for these notices could be reduced by eliminating the legal description in many cases.
There is no requirement in the law that the governing body specify a publication for use by that community, although some have done that. In the interim, if necessary, the supervisor, manager, zoning administrator or other administrative officials can make a decision where to publish when the Advance is no longer available.
Finally, for notices related to municipal financing, there are sometimes different, unique publication requirements, but those are typically dealt with on a case-by-case basis in connection with a bond issue or other financing.
If we can be of assistance in helping you determine whether a newspaper is of general circulation, or in addressing this issue, please call.