(click on photos to make them larger)
I have become increasingly offended by The Rapid City Journal's coverage of the billboard issue. They are in a difficult spot. They are supposed to be champions of the First Amendment. But, they also sell advertising in a competitive market. Billboards compete with the Journal for advertising dollars. A lot of dollars.
The Journal's news coverage and opinion pieces have me envisioning giddy newspaper executives foaming at the mouth over the fact that a few vocal goofs are trying to put legitimate businesses out of business. There is a certain joy that comes with toppling someone.
So a group of local businesspeople, who have businesses on Mt. Rushmore Road, have decided there are just too many billboards there. Stand at the north end of the street at night, look south and you will see a hodgepodge of back-lighted and neon signage. One of the proponents of restricting billboard companies is Modrick Travel, which is owned by the anchor/weather guy at KOTA TV, Rapid City's ABC affiliate. Another vocal proponent is Deb Jensen, formerly associated with Duhamel Broadcasting and with Rushmore Radio. Broadcasters want those advertising dollars the billboard companies get, too.
Nobody should be surprised, I suppose, that the ugliest sign on Mt. Rushmore Road is a neon cowboy riding a buckin' bagel. Deb Jensen owns that business. And, she's offended by the billboards? There are very few billboards on Mt. Rushmore Road. The sign clutter is due almost entirely to on-premise signs owned by the businesses they're in front of.
But the billboard measure does not address on-premise signs. Only billboards.
Comes now Alan Hanks, mayor of Rapid City who sent a campaign card I received in today's post.
"Personally speaking, I plan to vote YES on those measures, although I urge you to study the issue and draw your own conclusions. As you do, please keep the following points in mind:
In an information and technology-driven global economy, high-paying jobs can locate just about anywhere. If we want our fair share of those jobs to locate in Rapid City, we must make sure Rapid City is an attractive place to live.
Tourism and conventions are our bread and butter. People do not come here to look at signs and clutter.
The proposed new limitations apply only to billboards. They do NOT affect the on-premise signs of local businesses."
So there you have it. Alan Hanks is happy to help make sure the outdoor advertising businesses in Rapid City are not allowed to grow their businesses. He is happy to place restrictions on one advertising medium, while handing a big fat gift to their good ol' boy competitors.
And, look at the nine photos on this card. They are all taken with telephoto lenses in order to increase foreshortening and give an utterly false impression of what people really see. The billboard limitations in these ballot measures are corrupt and they have been from the beginning. They are designed to limit a competitive business. Billboard companies are legitimate businesses offering a valuable service to other area businesses. And, Mr. mayor, I beg to differ: About a half million visitors come through our fair town on two wheels each year and they DEPEND on information they find on billboards.
As you go to the ballot, remember that the impression left by this card is an utterly false one. Remember that the offensive signs on Mount Rushmore Road are for the most part on-premise signs, not billboards. Remember that these two measures will not decrease the number of billboards in Rapid City. In fact, both major sign companies, Epic and Lamar, have sign credits and this measure will force those companies to build the signs they have credits for. So the result of your vote in favor of these measures will assure Rapid City more billboards will be constructed. Remember that voting in favor of these measures will absolutely assure the city of a court battle it cannot afford and cannot win.
Let's remember that the mayor is quick to tell people he's pro-business, while at the same time is working to limit business and reduce the number of jobs those businesses provide.
Remember that these measures will give an unfair advantage to the billboard companies' competitors. And it stinks.