Friday, January 26, 2018

Wisconsin newspapers OK with bill to allow public notices in free papers because some areas no longer have a paper

Directors of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association have decided not to oppose a bill that would allow publication of legally required, paid public-notice advertising in free-circulation newspapers if there is no paid-circulation paper in the jurisdiction.

In some areas, "There are no longer paid-circulation newspapers eligible to publish government notices," and in 17 counties that have only one paid-circulation paper, it "does not reach all of the citizens of the county," WNA Executive Director Beth Bennett told members. One county out of 72, coterminous with the Menominee Indian Reservation, has no paid-circulation paper.

Beth Bennett
"Local officials from these areas are approaching the Legislature on a regular basis arguing that because there is no newspaper, they should be allowed to publish on their government websites instead," Bennett writes. "It is for this reason that WNA sees the addition of 'qualified' free newspapers where there are no paid newspapers as being supportive of the association's effort to keep public notices in newspapers." She says Assembly Bill 731 would require free newspapers publishing notices to "meet all of the frequency, editorial content and distribution criteria currently required by law of a paid-circulation newspaper."

Bennett says the bill would "bolster the newspaper industry's readership/circulation in the state. The WNA consistently relies on strong readership/circulation numbers when arguing for the continued publication of public notices in newspapers. The WNA believes that this measure will also strengthen the presence of the newspaper industry statewide, providing more publisher contacts for our legislative efforts and more publications statewide for the industry overall."

The WNA board also decided not to oppose the bill partly because of "multiple attacks during the 2017 legislative session to eliminate the publication of public notices in newspapers," Bennett writes. Such attacks are ongoing in most states; the Public Notice Resource Center keeps an updated list.

Bennett's note includes a strong general argument for paid public notice, a source of newspaper revenue that has become more important as commercial advertising has declined: "Newspaper publication of public notices provides the necessary verification, certification and archiving that ensures that individuals'/taxpayers' rights are protected and preserved. While public-notice publication in newspapers has been a constant and reliable third-party check on governmental actors for generations, Wisconsin’s publishers have worked to continually adapt public notice requirements to ensure the broadest dissemination of public information."

Bennett notes that WNA, like many other state press associations, "began digitally archiving all public notices published in Wisconsin, making them publicly available online" at no cost to the advertisers, which include some business interests as well as government entities.

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