Every session of the General Assembly there are bills that attack the publication of public notices in newspapers. It is a relentless attack by public officials who should know the value of public notices in newspapers.
They say they can save money by putting the notices on the internet. The problem with that is that fewer people would read the notices. There are thousands of people in rural areas who still lack high-speed internet access. The saving of money is questionable.
Public notices contain information that the public needs to know. Combined with open meetings and freedom of information laws, public notices in newspapers are an essential element of government transparency. People are used to reading public notices in community newspapers. People look over every page in community newspapers. How do we know? Because readers have told us that they do.
The information in public notices is important to readers. We have elected officials who try to hide information about government activities, using the lame excuses that people wouldn’t understand the issue and many don’t care. Voters are more intelligent than some public officials give them credit for, and, yes, there are some members of the public who only get interested in governmental matters when their toes are being stepped on, or their billfolds are endangered. They become engaged and usually it is due to reading a newspaper and the public notices.
It is important to remember that anybody can put anything on the internet and usually no source of what they say is given. Verifying what is on the web is virtually impossible. Newspapers with public notices are recognized as a reliable source and they are accessible, verifiable and newspaper files provide records of the notices.
In all 50 states, newspapers remain the main depository for publication of public notices. Newspapers, called by many the “watchdogs” of governmental activities, advocate transparency, open meetings and records and, above all, freedom of speech. Public notices are essential to keeping the public aware of what government is doing and how the taxpayers’ money is being spent.
There are countless legal, public and private, activities that require publication in newspapers. The system works, dating to 1789. The first session of the U.S. Congress required the secretary of state to publish all “bills, orders, resolutions and congressional votes” in at least three publicly available newspapers. That was the foundation of publication of public notices in newspapers.
The motives of wanting to take newspapers out of the transparency system vary by our elected officials, and we will leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions. Voters must hold those elected officials accountable.