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Citrus County Board Nixes New York Times Digital Subscription

The Citrus County Comissioner Board
The Citrus County Board of Commissioners voted on the use of a digital subscription for the library system to the New York Times after calling them 'fake news', voting 3-2 against it

The Citrus County Board of Commissioners made their final decision Tuesday, rejecting a request by the county’s public library system for an online subscription of the New York Times by a 3-2 vote.

The issue attracted national attention after one commissioner called the newspaper “fake news" during its meeting a month ago.

Then, commissioners unanimously denied a $2,700 budget request by the library system for a digital subscription to the newspaper at an Oct. 24 meeting.

“Fake news. I agree with President Trump. I will not be voting for this,” said Commissioner Scott Carnahan. “I do not want the New York Times in this county… I don’t agree with it, I don’t like them, it's fake news and I’m voting no.”

The county currently spends about $3,000 annually for the print version of the Times, which is available in its four libraries.

The agenda for Tuesday’s meeting proposed transitioning to the digital version and phasing out the print copies. That would save the county about $300 a year, while also making the digital subscription available to all 70,000 library card holders in Citrus County.  

The meeting was nearly standing-room only with residents expressing both agreement and opposition to the plan.

After almost 90 minutes of public comment, Board Chairman Brian Coleman, who proposed the reevaluation of the subscription request, spoke about his experience over the last month.

“I have a very hard time changing people’s opinions,” he said. “People might not think it was done properly…to me, you have to get past people’s opinions sometimes to try to make things work.

“I have, in the last 30 days, had more emails with four-letter words than I’ve heard in my whole career of 28 years in law enforcement and about 24 years in the military,” added Coleman.

For the two commissioners who voted against the proposal, they said the decision was less political and more fiscal, saying there are cheaper online alternatives to the New York Times.

“I can pick (my) phone up right now and bring up Google News, Washington Post, L.A. Times, New York Times, I can read anything I want, at any time I want,” said Carnahan. “It doesn’t matter to me, I’m not backed into a corner.

“You have needs and you have wants – this is a want, I’m not supporting it, I’m not backing down.”

“I have yet to find a cause to pay for something that covers topics in the news that you can’t already find someplace else for free. If our budget is so wonderful and so great that we can spend money on stuff that you can get for free, maybe we need to (re-)think our budget,” said Commissioner Jimmie Smith.

Commissioner Ron Kitchen, who also opposed changing to the digital option, criticized the media coverage the initial decision drew, along with the response from others who blasted their response.

“You’re not going to hear the good things about Citrus County. You’re going to hear we’re a laughingstock because we actually said out loud that we supported the President of the United States,” said Kitchen. “Everyone said free speech, unless we disagree with you and then you don’t have the right to free speech.”

“It’s not about censorship, everybody keeps saying censorship. Here’s what I say: if the New York Times wants to be in the Citrus County Library, let them donate,” he added. “Hear that, New York Times, America? If that’s the issue, let them donate it.”

Commissioner Jeff Kinnard, who joined Coleman in voting in favor of the proposal, said he doesn’t read or support the New York Times. But he also said that a digital subscription made sense, as the libraries offer users new forms of technology, such as e-books.

“So the content of what was being switched over from an older platform…to a new digital platform, showed me that they had made the decision to move forward with the times – not the New York Times, but the years – and have more digital access,” said Kinnard.

The commissioners briefly considered amending the proposal to allow donations to fund the purchase of a digital subscription, but decided against that. They also talked about coming back at an unannounced future date to discuss a more formal policy for what newspapers the library offers users.

Adam Bakst is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for summer 2019.
Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.