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Washington Post Sues to Disqualify WSJ From Publishing Legal Notices

Even in the Internet Age, most courts require litigants in probate, foreclosure or other legal proceedings to provide notice in newspapers of "general circulation." So with commercial ad revenues on the decline, legal notices remain one of the few dependable sources of cash for newspapers -- so much so that at least one newspaper is willing to go to court to protect its legal-notice publication turf.

Courthouse News Service reports that the Washington Post is suing for a declaratory judgment that the Wall Street Journal is not a newspaper of general circulation in Prince William County, Va., and therefore does not qualify to publish legal notices. The Post's suit take issue with an April 28 circuit court order that declared the Journal eligible to publish legal notices in the county.

So is the WSJ a paper of general circulation? Here are the facts, according to the story:

The Post says it has a circulation of 22,907 in Prince William County - 17.6 percent of the households there - while the Journal has a circulation of only 911, less than 1 percent. Among the Post's claims are that the Journal does not cover local or regional news in Virginia or Prince William County unless it is of national interest. The Post says other newspapers have far greater circulation in the county than the Journal - The News and Messenger, for example, has an audited circulation of 17,966. The Post also states that according to the Journal itself, 81 percent of its readers are male, the average household income for a Journal subscriber is $253,100, and the average household net worth is $2,489,000.

While these demographics make the Wall Street Journal an attractive outlet for commercial advertisers, they also suggest that it isn't a paper of general circulation -- and thus, is ineligible for legal ads. Since the suit challenges the County order, I'm not sure whether the WSJ will respond. But it seems to me that the WSJ needs to walk a fine line to avoid downplaying its national scope and high-income demographics, whcih presumably draw far more lucrative advertising than the publication of legal notices.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on June 12, 2009 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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