Two hearings scheduled for today in Hauppauge shed a little light on politics in Suffolk. Both The East Hampton Star and The Suffolk Times have been the county’s “official” newspapers for their respective towns for about as long as anyone can remember. That was until this year, when the Suffolk Legislature removed them from the list, instead substituting Dan’s Papers for both Southold and East Hampton Towns. A Jan. 3 resolution on this matter appeared to the legislators as ordinary business; none apparently looked at the fine print, in which the switches were quietly made. The excellent Southampton Press stayed on as that town’s official newspaper, as did papers on Shelter Island and in Riverhead.
The inside word is that the changes were politically motivated following the swearing-in of a new Republican majority in the Legislature in January. Legislator Al Krupski has gone to bat for the Southold designation and introduced a bill to restore the status of The Suffolk Times. For East Hampton, Legislator Bridget Fleming did the same, proposing that The Star resume its status publishing legal notices that affect residents of its town.
Dan’s Papers is published in Southampton, and as a free paper without robust coverage of government, it would not be a place one would think to turn to for these notices. Important, too, is that both The Times and The Star have robust subscriber bases — with delivery not just in the local area, but in the places where the East End’s seasonal residents and real estate investors get their mail. Free newspapers carry little way to measure if they are read; those with paid circulation like us and The Suffolk Times provide a much better guarantee. Dan’s does not have a similar reach.
This is not about money, but about effectiveness. Legal notices in total, from local, county, state, and federal governments put together, account for between 5 and 10 percent of revenue, according to the National Newspaper Association. No disrespect to the publisher of Dan’s Papers, but as The Suffolk Times put it in an editorial when it learned in May of the change, Dan’s “has never been known for its dedication to covering local government news of any kind — let alone in Southold Town, where our newspaper is based, owned locally, and has published continually since 1857.” Though The Star is the relatively new kid on the block, having first been printed in 1885, the same holds true in East Hampton.
Public access to government information should never be a political plum to be taken away when coverage does not go the way officials like.