Keep Public Notices in Your Local Newspaper

October 14, 2019

Mike Wilcox Editor/Publisher

I’d like to bring up and issue that really is of great concern to the newspaper community. This is public notices and attempts by state legislators to end them in print. Their reasoning is that interested parties could view the notices on a website, maybe sponsored by the state, easier than they could find them in a newspaper. Additionally some lawmakers claim the website would be far more cost effective than having to purchase space in local newspapers.

But wait a minute! There are many good reasons public notices ought to remain in newspapers. Off the top of my head, in many of the areas this newspaper covers, high speed internet is still a futuristic concept. In one county I am aware of, nearly 40 percent of homes are without high-speed internet. Heck the cost alone- upwards to $70 a month, forces many people to abstain.

Thus less access means less transparency and accountability. If public notices are no longer required to be published in newspapers, and instead on an obscure government-run website it would make access more difficult for the elderly, the poor and especially the aforementioned that have limited or no access to broadband and are dependent on newspapers for much of their news and public notices.

The press exists as a public watchdog. We are part of the checks and balances that attempt to make sure those elected by the voters, actually perform their duties, particularly fiduciary, in an upstanding manner. By taking public notices out of newspapers, and placing them in to the hands of government- why that is akin to allowing the fox to guard the hen house.

Private sector notices such as mortgage foreclosures make up the great majority of notices found in newspapers. The money that is saved from eliminating the requirement to publish these notices won’t amount too much because of the cost to the state to provide “proof” these notices actually exist. Then of course there will be an additional cost to continually educate the public on how to find the notices online.

Lastly, and what I fear most, is that a lot of the small, rural weekly newspapers are dependent on these notices. It is nearly 50 percent of the revenue of several of the smaller weeklies I know. Without the notices they will cease to exist. Of course for many who think the press is simply the mouthpiece for liberalism, that would be welcome, but what they fail to realize, is that many weeklies are conservative in nature, and practice non-biased reporting unlike some of their larger counterparts.

And these smaller newspapers employ thousands of hardworking individuals who take pride in publishing a newspaper every week. What’s going to happen to these people if their newspapers must close up shop because the lost revenue from public notices is too great to overcome.
I’ve been in this business for nearly 40 years. I’ve experienced more ups and downs than a Six Flags rollercoaster. I’ve fought the loss of classified advertising to the internet. I fought the loss of display advertising because big box stores and now Amazon, have made it hard for local stores to compete.

I understand a lawmaker or two trying to make political “hay” by insisting legals on a website will be more cost effective. But anytime the government is involved, costs rarely go down.

Public notices hold our elected officials accountable and keep citizens informed on what the government is doing. Publishing them in newspapers provides a third-party check to government transparency and maintains a permanent record.

I don’t think we want to lose that. If you agree contact your state lawmaker, and let them know. You can bet your local newspaper will appreciate your help.

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