Newspapers should keep public and legal notices

By: Ian Buchanan |

Since the formation of our country, public and legal notices have been a tool for government to inform its citizens. Notices take many forms: city council minutes, water quality reports, or government construction projects. The public may or may not be interested in each specific piece of information regarding their community, such as foreclosure notices on liens from the other side of town. But the information has always been available and has informed the public about their communities in a good faith effort.

This burden of giving notice to citizens is critical to government oversight and public awareness. This sacred duty of informational sharing is essential for democratic oversight and preservation of the republic. In turn it is a citizen’s responsibility to make oneself aware of government undertaking.

Newspapers serve as the method of notification for all local events and news. Public and legal notices have been included in newspapers from the beginning, and this method for informing the public has worked quite well. Including this information along side traditional news articles in a newspaper are an effective means to inform the average citizen. But this long-held tradition of newspapers disseminating this information is being threatened in states across the country.

The movement now is for state governments and local municipalities to notify the public online. The logic is simple: host on a government-run website, reduce cost, and inform the public. This is a fallacy though. Many newspapers already have an effective method of hosting public and legal notices that makes this vital information easily accessible to members of the community. If government representatives want this information posted online, it can be (and in many cases already is) something publishers easily do themselves. The information should continue to be published in newspapers, advertised on local news websites, and disseminated by the press to the public.

State governments want to take the control of public and legal notices away from the newspapers and turn it into a government-run service. The reasoning behind this is advertised as financially motivated, but the savings amount to less than half of 1% of state budgets. That figure does not include the costs which would be incurred with administering a state run alternative.

Newspaper publishers should have the final decision in terms of where public and legal notices are posted. Whether on their own website, a statewide website run by the press association or a private company, there is no need for it to be buried on a government website. The good faith effort of informing the public must be maintained.