The Asbury Park Press is about to lose a major source of revenue after a misogynistic and anti-Semitic caption caused the Monmouth County Board of Commissioners to pull their legal advertising.
“We are not going to continue to give money to an organization that is sending these kinds of messages to anybody who is on the Internet, including kids,” said Commissioner Sue W. Kiley.
The newspaper fired Gustavo Martínez Contreras on after he posted a caption to a photo of an Orthodox Jewish nurse preparing to administer a COVID-19 vaccination that referred to her as “a fucking hot nurse, a total JAP” on Sunday.
Kiley said her grandchildren saw the caption.
“I think it’s horrifying,” she said.
The commissioners passed a resolution denouncing the Gannett-owned newspaper and directing all county government agencies to instead place statutorily-required legal notices in the Star-Ledger. They cited a state law that prohibits aiding and abetting discriminatory conduct.
The bigger issue for Gannett and others was a call for the Legislature to repeal the law that requires legal notices to be published in newspapers, instead renewing a 2016 bid to allow government entities to publish notices electronically.
“We’re in a different era now of publication where we should be looking at different alternatives and our legislators should be the ones to address this,” said Commissioner Thomas Arnone, the board’s director. We’ve got to be looking at all things that care costing taxpayers dollars that are really not necessary right now and this is one.
Arnone said it was unfortunate that it took this situation to make the commissioners realize that a change needs to be made.
Monmouth is not alone, with the mayor of New Jersey’s fourth-largest city making a similar call.
“The legal advertising law is outdated with web sites reach more people than newspapers,” said Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage. “A change in the law forcing government advertising is needed.”
Thursday’s 36-page print edition of the Asbury Park Press included 5 pages of legal notices, about 14% of their total newspaper and a lucrative form of taxpayer subsidy.
In 2016, then-Gov. Chris Christie pushed for legislation to end the decades-old practice of requiring government to publish legal notices in print newspapers.
The New Jersey Press Association – and some editorial page editors – said the move would be the death knell of print media. Christie and legislators dropped their proposal, and since then, newspapers like The (Bergen) Record and the Star-Ledger have seen their paid print circulation drop by over 70%.
Freeholder Lillian Burry bemoaned a decline in the quality of the once-revered Asbury Park Press.
“It doesn’t take a genius to seek where their focus is these days and that’s their obituary columns,” Burry said. “They have more obituaries in that paper than anything else. Certainly nothing newsworthy.”
Kiley noted that political leaders of both parties were appalled by the caption.
“The fact that it stayed up for 14 hours, the fact that it took 24 hours before an apology came out – and the apology was pretty lame to begin with – it’s even more appalling to me,” Kiley said.
The apology appeared only on APP.com and not in their print edition.
Arnone also said that the newspaper missed the boat.
“Nobody’s perfect and people make mistakes, but it’s owning up to your mistakes and standing up there and taking accountability for your mistakes,” he stated.
Paul D’Ambrosio, the Asbury Park Press executive editor, did not immediately respond to a 3:48 PM request for comment.