By Mike Wilcox
I’d like to bring up an issue of great concern to the newspaper community: 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 more cost effective than having to buy space in local newspapers.
But wait a minute. There are many good reasons public notices should remain in newspapers. Off the top of my head, in many areas this newspaper covers, high-speed internet is still a futuristic concept. In one county I know of, nearly 40 percent of homes are without it. The cost alone, upwards to $70 a month, forces many people to abstain.
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 who have limited or no access to broadband and depend 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 try to make sure persons elected by voters actually perform their duties, particularly fiduciary, in an upstanding manner. Taking public notices out of newspapers, and placing them in to the hands of government is akin to allowing the fox to guard the hen house.
Private-sector notices such as mortgage foreclosures make up a majority of notices found in many newspapers. The money saved from eliminating the requirement to publish these notices won’t amount to 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 small, rural weekly newspapers depend on these notices. It is nearly 50 percent of the revenue of several I know. Without the notices they will cease to exist.
For many who think the press is simply a mouthpiece for liberalism, that would be welcome, but they fail to realize many weeklies are conservative in nature and practice nonbiased reporting, unlike some of their larger counterparts. They employ thousands of hardworking people who take pride in publishing a newspaper every week. What’s going to happen to them 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, experiencing 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.