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The most recent issue of The Stevens Point Gazette contained several press releases from area organizations, but no original news content from Portage Co. (Metro Wire photo)

City approves Newspaper of Record, despite history of cost increases

By Brandi Makuski

Stevens Point — The city of Stevens Point has again designated The Stevens Point Gazette as its Official Newspaper.

Formerly known as The Portage County Gazette, it’s one of two local newspapers certified by the Wisconsin Department of Administration to apply for the designation. The Gazette was the sole bidder for the Official Newspaper—sometimes referred to as a Newspaper of Record — contract. The other local certified newspaper, The Stevens Point Journal, submitted a bid in 2023 but largely stopped submitting bids several years ago.

An Official Newspaper is a publicly available newspaper where a municipal government publishes its public or legal notices. Under Wisconsin law, certain public or legal announcements must be published in a newspaper that has been in publication for at least a year.

To be considered eligible for DOA certification, a publisher must provide third-party proof of selling a minimum of 50 percent of the newspaper’s total circulation. State law also mandates the font and size of the text for in-column ads.

Bids are taken by municipalities for the contract each spring. At Monday’s Finance Committee meeting, the Gazette’s bid was approved with no discussion, although Council President Marc Christianson did comment,  “It would be nice if we’d get more than one bid on things, but, state statute is also restrictive on who qualifies as an Official Newspaper, so…”

City Treasurer Corey Ladick said the fee increase from the Gazette ranges from 3.8 to 5.4 percent.

According to city records, the Gazette charged $0.7874 per line for the first insertion of an in-column legal notice, and $0.6221 per line for each subsequent insertion in 2023. In 2024, those charges were increased to $0.8176 per line for the first insertion and $0.6559 per line for each subsequent insertion.

For display legal notices in 2023, the Gazette charged $8.10 per column inch for the first insertion and $7.60 for subsequent insertions. That charge remained the same for 2024.

“The recommendation would be to approve, since we only got one bid,” Ladick told the Committee on May 13.

The last time the city talked about this…

The city’s last substantive public discussion about the issue was in 2021, when the Gazette’s cost increased by about 30 percent, which Ladick then referred to as “a pretty significant increase” and spurred more discussion.

“We did look into what we could do about it, and unfortunately, not a whole lot,” he said in May 2021.

Ladick told the Committee that newspapers are required to follow a range of advertising rates set by the DOA when charging for legal notices. The Gazette’s bid fell “within those guidelines,” he said.

Councilman Shawn Morrow (District 11) asked if online news publications could be eligible to serve as a Newspaper of Record. According to City Attorney Andrew Beveridge, they are not.

“There is a circulation requirement, so it has to be in print,” Mayor Mike Wiza explained to the Committee. “We had the [city] clerk attempt to contact each of [the newspapers] to try and get competitive bids. But when you say it’s ‘within the guidelines,’ it’s at the top of the guidelines.”

Wiza said he’s been in touch with DOA then-Secretary Joel Brennan to “express our frustration with the consistently rising costs for legal notices” but hasn’t had much success. He recently learned that some legal notices aren’t required to be published in print in their entirety, so he looked into possibly publishing full notices on the city’s website as a cost-saving measure.

In 2016, the Gazette was still a locally-owned publication, charging the city $0.33 per column inch for the first insertion of a column ad, and $0.26 per column inch for second and subsequent insertions. Display ads cost $3.96 per inch, with $3.12 per inch for the second and subsequent insertions.

But in 2017, the Gazette came under new ownership, a company called Multi Media Channels (MMC)—the same company that acquired the Stevens Point City Times in 2014 and whose CEO lives in Pennsylvania.

In-column ad rates increased that year to $0.49 per column inch for the first insertion and $0.42 for the second and subsequent insertions; display ad costs jumped to $7.50 per ad for the first insertion and $7 per inch thereafter.

In 2018, MMC again raised their rates, this time to $.51 per column inch for the first run, and $0.42 per column inch thereafter, with display ads costing $7.80 per column inch for the first run, and $7.30 thereafter.

MMC maintained the same rates in 2019. In 2020, in-column rates remained the same but display ads increased, with a charge of $8.10 per inch for the first insertion, and $7.60 per inch thereafter.

For 2021, the company increased rates even further. In-column ads cost $.0.6635 per inch for the first insertion and $0.5242 per line. Display ads remain unchanged from 2020.