Does Your Publication Qualify as a "Newspaper of General Circulation" Under Government Code § 6000?
The advent of the Internet has significantly impacted the print newspaper industry. The availability of free, online content has caused the utter collapse of the industry’s business model – a collapse that has been marked by declining advertising revenues, dwindling circulation, and rising newsprint prices, which, in turn, have led to hiring freezes, layoffs and buyouts. As industry leaders struggle to construct a new cyber-compatible business model, legal advertising (with its virtually guaranteed revenue) has become all the more coveted. Indeed, as early as the 1950s – decades before scores of news content became available online – it generally was understood that, without the lucrative income realized from legal advertising, many local newspapers find it difficult to survive.1
Determine if your newspaper meets the requirements with the accompanying questionnaire.
A. What Is a Newspaper of General Circulation?
Newspapers of general circulation are the only publications in California that can publish “legal notices” – those official advertisements, such as foreclosure notices and fictitious business name statements, which by law must be published in a “newspaper of general circulation” to be valid and effective.2 Newspapers do not automatically qualify as “newspapers of general circulation.” Only a court can decree a newspaper as one of “general circulation,” and once a newspaper obtains such an order, it is said to have attained “adjudicated status,” permitting it to publish legal notices for particular geographic regions – generally a city and/or a county located in California.
Specific examples may help illustrate the point. California Code of Civil Procedure § 701.540(g), for instance, requires that notices of the sale of certain real property shall be published once per week (for three consecutive weeks) in a newspaper of general circulation for the city in which the real property is located.3 Thus, assuming the subject property is located in Burbank, the individual selling it under this statute must publish the required notice of sale in a newspaper that has obtained “adjudicated status” for the City of Burbank.
Similarly, under California Business & Professions Code § 17917(a), an individual wishing to transact business in California under a fictitious business name must publish a fictitious business name statement once per week (for four consecutive weeks) in a newspaper of general circulation for the county in which the registrant’s principal place of business is located, among other requirements.4 Assuming the registrant’s business is located in Los Angeles County, he or she must publish the fictitious business name statement in a newspaper that has obtained “adjudicated status” for the County of Los Angeles.
B. How Does a Newspaper Attain Adjudicated Status?
The Legislature has enacted a statutory scheme outlining two independent paths to adjudicated status, which are found in Government Code sections 6000 and 6008. This article addresses adjudication under Section 6000.
To qualify as a newspaper of general circulation under Section 6000, a newspaper must (1) publish local or telegraphic news and intelligence of a general character, (2) have a bona fide subscription list of paying subscribers, and (3) have been established, printed and published at “regular intervals” in the state, county, or city in which it is seeking adjudication for at least one year.5 Let’s examine each of these substantive requirements, in turn.
1. Dissemination of Local or Telegraphic News and Intelligence of a General Character
To qualify for adjudication under Section 6000, a publication must disseminate local or telegraphic news and intelligence of a “general character.”6 This means that the publication cannot be “devoted to the interests, or published for the entertainment or instruction of a particular class, profession, trade, calling, race, or denomination[.]”7 The determination of whether a newspaper meets this requirement is not dependent on the number of paid subscribers the publication enjoys; the question of whether a newspaper publishes news and intelligence of a “general character” requires an examination of its content and the diversity of its subscribership.8
Consider, for instance, a publication with subscribers who are politicians, judges, attorneys, doctors, pastors, mechanics, restaurateurs, bankers, dentists, teachers, school administrators, police officers, librarians, financial planners, realtors, and plumbers. Where, as in this example, a publication’s subscribers are employed in so many different industries, courts have not hesitated to find the publication’s subscribership sufficiently diverse for adjudication purposes.9
Courts also examine a publication’s content to determine whether it reports on matters of interest to the general public, as opposed to matters of interest only to members of a particular class or denomination. The court’s decision in In re Application of David offers guidance. There, “The Journal of Commerce” lost its adjudicated status because the court concluded that the content it published was not “general” in nature.10 The court found that the paper’s content – all of which involved or was in some manner connected with the building and construction industries – was devoted to the interests and published for the entertainment and instruction of people in those industries.11 Notably, in stripping “The Journal of Commerce” of its adjudicated status, the David Court observed that the paper did not report any social or political news, and that there was no account of local events, among other things.12
Local newspapers typically satisfy this requirement because they cover local news and other information in which the general public is interested, such as sports, entertainment, editorial, and business columns, as well as feature articles.
2. Bona Fide List of Paying Subscribers
A publication seeking adjudicated status under Section 6000 must also have a “bona fide subscription list of paying subscribers.” Many publishers and editors of local papers believe that a subscription list cannot qualify as “bona fide” for adjudication purposes, unless the publication has a large number of paid subscribers. But that is simply not the case; even publications with a modest number of paid subscribers may qualify for adjudicated status.
Although the term “bona fide subscription list of paying subscribers” is not defined in Section 6000, the California Supreme Court observed that, because “the legislature has not specified the number of subscribers required, we must assume that it meant that the words ‘bona fide’ were to be taken according to their common acceptation.”13 The Court found that “the term as used in this connection, means a real, actual, genuine subscription list which shall contain only the names of those who are in good faith paying regularly for their subscriptions.”14 Additionally, the Court emphasized that the determination of whether a newspaper is one of general circulation is not a matter of size, and depends instead on the diversity of its subscribership.15
Accordingly, in one case, the California Supreme Court found that a newspaper had a bona fide list of paying subscribers, even though only 25 paid subscribers appeared on its subscription list, where those subscribers included banks, creameries, produce markets, orange growers, mercantile agencies, real estate dealers and others.16 Similarly, the court in another case concluded that the newspapers at issue had bona fide subscription lists, where the evidence showed each publication had 40-50 paid subscribers.17 And in yet another case, the court found that a newspaper had a bona fide subscription list, where the newspaper produced evidence of 146 paying subscribers.18 As these cases demonstrate, the number of persons who subscribe to a petitioning newspaper does not determine whether it has a bona fide list of paying subscribers; rather, this requirement is met where the newspaper has an actual list of its subscribers, and those subscribers are engaged in diverse professions (rather than concentrated in a particular profession or industry).
3. Established, Printed and Published at Regular Intervals for at Least One Year.
The final requirement to qualify a publication as one of general circulation under Section 6000 is that the newspaper must be established,19 printed,20 and published21 at “regular intervals” in the state, county or city where adjudication is sought for at least one year preceding the date it publishes its first legal notice. Importantly, the statute’s requirement that a newspaper of general circulation be published at “regular intervals” does not mean that the newspaper must be published at any particular intervals, or that the intervals between publication dates must be equal; instead, the statute only mandates that the newspaper is published regularly, as opposed to “spasmodic or occasional” publication.22 This means that adjudicated status is not reserved only for daily or weekly publications. A newspaper that publishes on a bi-monthly or monthly basis, for example, also can qualify for adjudication because it is published at “regular intervals” within the meaning of Section 6000.
Many local newspapers find the revenue generated by legal notices has been a boon to their bottom line. If you believe your publication qualifies for adjudication, consult a lawyer with experience in adjudication litigation to guide you through the process.
1 In re Lynwood Herald American (“Lynwood I”), 152 Cal. App. 2d 901, 909 (1957).
2 “Legal notices” include, without limitation, official advertising, notices, resolutions, and orders. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 6040.
3 See also Cal. Gov’t Code § 6063.
4 See also Cal. Gov’t Code § 6064.
5 In addition to these substantive requirements, the statutory scheme imposes certain procedural requirements a petitioning newspaper must satisfy. For example, any newspaper seeking adjudicated status must first publish and file a verified petition setting forth facts demonstrating that it qualifies as a newspaper of general circulation in the geographic area in which adjudication is sought. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 6020. A petitioning newspaper also must publish the substance of the petition and notice of its intent to seek adjudication (1) in its own publication, and (2) in some other newspaper of general circulation published in the same city as the petitioning newspaper if there is one, and if there is none, in some other newspaper of general circulation published in the same county in which adjudication is being sought. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 6021(b).
6 A newspaper does not have to publish both local and telegraphic news to qualify for adjudication; “but there must be one or the other and intelligence of a general character.” In re Application of Herman, 183 Cal. 153, 162 (1920); see also In re Application of Green, 21 Cal. App. 138, 142 (1913) (noting Section 6000 “does not provide that in order for a newspaper to be established as a newspaper of general circulation that it shall publish both local and telegraphic news”).
7 See Cal. Gov’t Code § 6001.
8 Green, 21 Cal. App. at 142.
9 See, e.g., Green, 21 Cal. App. at 140, 145 (collecting cases); Cf. In re Application of Herman, 183 Cal. 153, 165 (1920) (where newspaper’s subscriber list included banks, creameries, produce markets, orange growers, mercantile agencies, and real estate dealers, it satisfied the diversity requirement; although court ultimately concluded the newspaper’s content was not sufficiently “general” to qualify for adjudication).
10 98 Cal. App. 69, 73 (1929).
11 See id. at 72-73.
12 See id.
13 Herman, 183 Cal. at 164; see also In re San Diego Commerce, 40 Cal. App. 4th 1229, 1232 n. 5 (1995); In re Lynwood Herald American (“Lynwood I”), 311 P.2d 95, 97-98 (1957).
14 See Herman, 183 Cal. at 164; San Diego Commerce, 40 Cal. App. 4th at 1232 n. 5.
15 Herman, 183 Cal. at 164.
16 See id. The court ultimately denied the newspaper’s adjudication petition because it held the paper did not publish news and intelligence of a “general character,” but rather was devoted to the interests of people primarily interested in instruments filed in the clerk’s and recorder’s offices. See id. at 162-163. The court determined that the paper had no account of local news or intelligence that would be of interest to the general public. See id. at 162-163.
17 Lynwood I, 311 P.2d at 97-98.
18 92 Cal. App. 2d 481, 487-488 (1949); See also In re Application of Johnson, 4 Cal. App. 2d 308, 309 (1935) (concluding that a newspaper with 150 paying subscribers qualified as a newspaper of general circulation under Section 6000); Paradise News Press, 151 Cal. App. 2d at 499 (newspaper had bona fide subscription list where it introduced evidence of 254 paid subscribers); San Diego Commerce, 40 Cal. App. 4th at 1237 (affirming trial court’s determination that newspaper with about 300 paid subscribers had a bona fide subscription list).
19 A newspaper is considered to be “established” if it has been in existence, under a specified name, for at least one year. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 6002.
20 The term “printed” also is a term of art. “Printing,” in this context, means the mechanical work of producing the newspaper. Historically, newspapers were produced by typesetting and impressing type on paper. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 6003. However, many newspapers now are produced by the “offset” printing technique, which involves the transfer of an image to a rubber roller or blanket and from the roller/blanket to the paper. Courts have determined that use of the “offset” process constitutes “printing” within the meaning of Section 6000. In re Sonora Daily, 108 Cal. App. 2d 53, 59 (1951) (granting adjudicated status under Section 6000 to newspaper that utilized the offset process).
21 A newspaper is considered “published” for adjudication purposes when it is issued from the place where it is printed, and then delivered to subscribers. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 6004. As the court in Lynwood I explained, “[t]he statute requires both issuance from the printing plant and circulation among the subscribers.” 311 P.2d at 98. By way of example, the court continued, “when newspapers come off the press of the Los Angeles Times and are bundled and placed on the Times’ truck, there has been an ‘issuance.’ But if the trucks immediately deposit the papers in the city incinerator, there has been no ‘publishing’ because there has been no ‘circulation’ among the people or delivery to subscribers. Conversely, if the truck should deposit the papers with the Times’ distributor in Beaumont and if they should be delivered to the subscribers there, then there would have been ‘circulation.’” Id. at 98-99.
22 In re Application of Tribune Publ’g Co., 12 Cal. App. 754, 756 (1910).