By Andrew McKay  11/10/21

Escambia County is switching its newspaper of record for public notices.  We first learned of this change during two brief moments at the beginning and the end of the recent joint redistricting meeting of the Escambia Commission and the School Board when presiding Vice-Chair Jeff Bergosh cheered the announcement from staff that the proof of public notice publication had been received from the Escambia Sun Press rather than from the Pensacola News Journal, as had previously been the case.

For those who are unfamiliar, the Escambia Sun Press is a local newspaper that specializes in publishing legal notices. Interim County Administrator Wes Moreno subsequently confirmed to NewsRadio that this switchover from the PNJ to the ESP is taking place for legal and meeting announcements from the County, which Moreno said he expects will save pehaps 50% of the cost of these announcements.  According to staff, the amount Escambia County has spent on advertising in the PNJ each of the last three years is as follows:
2019  $59,306
2020  $66,285
2021  $56,620

Moreno has told NewsRadio he thinks the same publications in the ESP might save the county $25k or more per year.

The second reason the County is making the switch is because there have been several times ove the past few years when proper proof of publication has not been provided by the PNJ.  These deficiencies have been mentioned during public meetings and also have been confirmed to NewsRadio by County staff.

Although both of these factors are the official reasons for the shift, a third factor is also worth mentioning.  A few days prior to the in-meeting announcement and his clear satisfaction with the change, Commissioner Bergosh wrote a blog post entitled, “Fight the Power! Part I: How Do  You Fight a Goliath.” In this post, Bergosh repeatedly criticized the PNJ, referring to them as “hypocritical, biased, and unprofessional,” saying many people perceive them as a “Public Enemy,” lengthily criticizing their editorial and news coverage policies, and questioning the Andy Marlette’s employment at the paper. For people unfamiliar, Commissioner Bergosh has repeately railed against the PNJ and Marlette, even habitually repurposing Marlette’s cartoons with his own captions and drawings to attack the paper when he perceives it has attacked him.

But the most relevant part of the post was at the end, when Bergosh said, “So how do you deprive a GOLIATH in the community of what they love and covet above all else, MONEY–when they hold a MONOPOLY on the daily print media in a community?  Easy:  Go after what they covet, money.  Escambia County spends as much as $100,000.00 yearly purchasing “Legal Ads” and notices, required by law, in the Pensacola News Journal.  As of the end of last month—we are cutting off this gravy-train income source the PNJ has enjoyed.”

During yesterday’s Committee of the Whole, Bergosh reiterated his criticism of the PNJ while discussing legislative priorities for Tallahassee and a bill that would remove the public notice requirement for newspapers.  He said, “We’re spending a hundred thousand to subsidize a giant fortune 500 company really that’s very adverse to us with their cartoons and unfair editorials, so I think that’s an important bill to get over the line.” Bergosh later added that Gannett and Hearst, “take our money, and then they beat us up.”  These comments and the blog post indicate that Vice Chair Bergosh’s disdain for the PNJ and his desire to deprive the paper of income is a third reason for the switchover.  It’s not clear whether Bergosh’s view factored into the decision to switch since it was not cited by staff in connection with the change.

Note:  I asked the PNJ if they wanted to comment on any part of this story, but I have not yet received one.  If I do, I will add it to the story.

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