Penn. college newspapers hurt by anti-alcohol advertising law

PENNSYLVANIA –– When newspaper giant KnightRidder launched Blue, a supplement to The Centre Daily Times inState College geared toward young adults, editors at Penn StateUniversity’s student newspaper were worried about the competition foradvertising money.And although The Daily Collegian has hadminimal problems keeping most of their advertisers, it has felt significantrevenue loss from one key set of merchants: bar owners.Gerry Hamilton,general manager of The Daily Collegian, and Editor in Chief Lynne Funkattribute the loss to Act 199, a Pennsylvania liquor statute that prohibitsalcohol advertising in any newspaper “published by, for or on behalf ofany educational institution.”Under Act 199, college newspapers canrun advertisements for bars as long as the advertisements do not contain anyinformation about alcohol. As a result, bars that advertise in collegenewspapers in Pennsylvania run information about food prices.Because ofAct 199, “I suspect that we lost $10,000 to $15,000 in advertisingannually. With the advent of Blue, we know of $30,000 in lostrevenue,” said Hamilton. “[Bars] haven’t eliminated theiradvertising, but they have cut back.” Act 199, first passed in1996, prohibits alcohol advertising in educational publications includingnewspapers, yearbooks and sports brochures. The Pennsylvania Liquor ControlBoard has characterized the law as an attempt to balance First Amendmentconcerns with attempts to curb underage drinking.Bars and liquor storesthat run advertising with alcohol-related content can be fined up to $500 for afirst offense.Though many publications and radio stations advertisealcohol in the area, Blue has posed a particular challenge to TheDaily Collegian because of the overlap in targetedreaders.“Bars can advertise drink specials” in Blue,Funk said. “And we, of course, cannot.”Funk noted that twoof The Daily Collegian’s biggest clients, which are bars, reducedadvertising from previous years, including one client that reduced advertisingby $16,000.Blue launched at the beginning of September as atabloid section that wraps around the front of The Centre Daily Times incertain areas where there is a high density of people within their intendedaudience. It has a primary target audience of 18-24 year olds, accordingto their advertising rate card, and a secondary target of 18-34 yearolds.The Centre Daily Times hopes that Blue will boost lowcirculation among young adults who comprise 44 percent of the population in thecity of State CollegeAccording to Centre Daily Times publisherHenry Haitz, 2,500 of Blue’s 3,000 copies are distributed through PennState’s readership program.The program allows students to obtainfree copies of the New York Times, USA Today, and Centre Daily Times oncampus for a small fee added to tuition.The Pitt News, thestudent newspaper at the University of Pittsburgh, has been involved in legalchallenges to Act 199 and is appealing a federal district court ruling thatupheld the law. The Pitt News lawsuit has been supported by the ACLU andPennsylvania Newspaper Association, among other groups.“In ouropinion, Act 199 is unconstitutional because it is a content based ban onprotected speech,” said Teri Henning, media law counsel for thePennsylvania Newspaper Association. “We believe that the collegenewspaper should be equally permitted to run this sort of [alcohol]advertising.”“I don’t think that the student newspapershould be prohibited from running [alcohol] ads,” Haitz said. “Itdoesn’t seem like it’s free speech when you’re prohibitinglegal content.”Haitz said that he believes students would learnabout bars and liquor stores regardless of the advertising content in thestudent newspaper, and that he was more concerned about underage drinking andbinge drinking, something that Blue runs public service announcementsagainst.“[Penn State] students don’t just stay oncampus,” he said. “They pass bars walking down the street, they canget information on the Internet.” Act 199 does not apply toBlue because it is not affiliated with Penn State nor is it marketedexclusively to Penn State students.The Daily Collegiandistributes approximately 20,000 copies every weekday around the Penn Statecampus. According to Hamilton, roughly 65 percent of Daily Collegianreaders are of legal drinking age.

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