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Down to under 6,000 subscribers, the Argus Leader could lose new legal newspaper status

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The city of Sioux Falls could be changing its legal newspaper.

The city’s operations committee met Monday and approved a recommendation to name the publication The Dakota Scout as its legal newspaper for one year. The vote was 3-1.

The Argus Leader has been the city’s legal newspaper for many years.

Committee and council member David Barranco made the motion citing the growing Dakota Scout and reduced costs.

Council and committee member Curt Soehl said he has a soft spot for the Argus Leader. It will be a tough decision for the council. Soehl said he has faith in both entities, yet he did not vote for Dakota Scout on Monday. But, it doesn’t mean he won’t vote for The Dakota Scout change at Wednesday’s council meeting.

Any recommendation or decision by the committee needs approval from the city council.

The publications both bid on the legal newspaper status. The legal newspaper is the official site of legal notices the city is required to publish. Legal notices can make up 5% or even 10% or 20% of a newspaper’s revenue, depending on the size and amount of legal notices.

The state Legislature passed a law during the recent session to allow free circulation publications to qualify as legal newspapers. These free circulation papers would need to distribute at least 500 physical copies and have at least 200 online paid subscribers.

In return for legal newspaper status, new publications will need to meet legal requirements, as well as submitting yearly reports to the SOS on their circulation and ownership.

On its website The Dakota Scout says it is a “locally owned, sourced and printed independent operation.” However, while it says it was co-founded by Jonathan Ellis and Joe Sneve in 2022, it does not list ownership. The Dakota Scout LLC filed as a business in 2022, according to the South Dakota Secretary of State’s website.

The Argus Leader is a Gannett Media newspaper. It is part of the USA Today Network, as noted on its website. The Argus Leader’s bid letter to the city cites Gannett Media and lists the USA Today Network.

The Dakota Scout does not list an owner in its bid letter to the city.

The two publications differ in that the Argus Leader is a paid subscription and publishes Sunday through Friday. The Dakota Scout is free and publishes once a week.

According to its bid letter, The Dakota Scout prints 5,000 free copies each week. It does not say if those are subscription, but the letter does say that more than 4,000 of the editions printed each week are distributed at restaurants, coffee shops and the like.

The bid letter from the Argus Leader says its current weekday circulation is 5,769 and 7,239 on Sunday.

Because it’s free, there is no barrier to residents who want to read legal notices, the Dakota Scout letter said.

The Dakota Scout said in its letter that it would not burden staff with more stringent deadlines and would save the city money.

The Argus Leader said in its letter that it provides efficient, accurate and timely proofing for the city that ensures that all legal notices are meeting legal compliance.

The Argus Leader lists its deadlines on the letter. The Dakota Scout does not.

The legal newspaper status starts on July 1 each year.

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