Legal Notices – a chink in the regional newspapers’ armour

By Jeremy Morton | 10th Oct 2017

We caught up with South Leeds Life editor, and ICNN founding member, Jeremy Morton, to discuss his recent success with legal notices. 

He writes: 

The issue of legal notices is multi-faceted. There’s the way regional papers use it to prop up a broken business model, there’s the question of whether people actually read them and whether local government could save money by publishing them on their own websites.

There is also the issue of hyperlocal print publications being excluded from the market because we are not “proper” newspapers. At South Leeds Life we’ve made a small breakthrough in this aspect of the issue.

By way of background, I should explain that South Leeds Life is a not-for-profit, volunteer-led hyperlocal covering two postcodes: LS10 and LS11 in an unfashionable corner of Leeds. We started online almost seven years ago and three years ago started producing a free monthly newspaper edition.

Having spoken to hyperlocal colleagues around the country, I understood the issues of legal notices or thought I did. In particular, a ruling (opinion) that to carry legal notices newspapers must publish at least fortnightly. I have turned away several local businesses needing to place an advert and put off by the cost of using the Yorkshire Evening Post (YEP), our local daily.

But this month we published our first legal notice, for a small shop applying to sell alcohol.

I’m indebted to the shopkeeper who didn’t take my advice without question. After a long telephone conversation, I called into his shop to try and sell him some regular advertising. We rehearsed the issue again and he explained that was probably going to go with The Times (£800) because the YEP was quoting £1,600.

Whilst I was in the shop he rang Leeds City Council’s licensing department one last time. They threw the onus back on him saying if he was satisfied that the paper was widely read by all sections of the local population, then he was free to place the notice where he liked. The only constraint was that the notice must appear within ten days of his licence application being lodged with the council.

So to his and my delight, we went ahead and published the legal notice. This isn’t going to change our business model. I don’t think it is reasonable to charge extra just because someone has a legal obligation to advertise. We charge based on size and I applied our usual rate.

I’ve been braced for a backlash since publishing. None has come yet, but I am very happy to argue our corner if it does.

The issue is that people local to the shop, and therefore potentially affected by the granting of the licence, see the notice. South Leeds Life’s circulation is 5,500. The YEP’s circulation is down to 15,192 according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation. The YEP circulate across the whole city and beyond, our circulation is concentrated almost exclusively in two postcodes.

I hate to think how small The Times’ circulation is locally, but of course, it would have been perfectly acceptable to publish the notice there. In fact, the rep at The Times commented that they had been getting a lot of enquires from Leeds recently. Perhaps the YEP has pushed their monopoly price too far?

I must admit I’m not clear on what the law actually says about placing notices, but I’m very happy to go with Leeds City Council’s interpretation. Feel free to use our experience as a precedent in discussions with your local authority.

Jeremy Morton, Editor, South Leeds Life

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