Monday, October 08, 2007

Paid public notices are still important information for citizens, revenue for rural newspapers

National Newspaper Week began yesterday, and this year the focus is keeping paid public notices in newspapers. The notices make citizens aware of government spending and other official actions, but legislators in many states want to take these notices online -- and out of newspapers. Courts in some states have ruled that publishing the information on a government Web site is sufficient, and that stance has placed the future of public notices in newspapers in doubt. This is an economic issue for rural journalism, because the income from these "legal ads" can be vital to smaller newspapers.

David T. Thompson, the executive director of the Kentucky Press Association, writes that public notices are not relics, but remain key to our democracy and are as important to open government as open meetings and open records. He calls the trio a "three-legged stool," and says that without one, there can be no truly open government.

Steve Haynes, publisher of the Oberlin Herald and five other community newspapers in Kansas, argues that Internet-only notices would be far from progress. Haynes, president of the National Newspaper Association, explains that when these notices are left to the Web sites of government agencies the information becomes obscure and far from public (especially if someone does not have Internet access). While Internet's role in journalism is expanding, Haynes writes that "the Internet must not become a tool of secrecy for governments."

Some state press associations are drawing attention to public notices by collecting those in print and posting them online in searchable databases. The Georgia Press Association maintains a site that currently has notices from newspapers in 157 of the state's 159 counties. The site mypublicnotices.com draws notices from newspapers in 13 states. Such sites reach readers who get information online, while helping ensure that print-oriented readers will still get the public notices they have come to expect. A column in the Laurel Leader-Call in Mississippi says a newspaper remains "the ultimate portable document format," especially in small communities.

1 comment:

publisher said...

In Montana, public notice ads are uploaded by members of the Montana Newspaper Association to publicnoticeads.com/mt