Why Shouldn’t Public Notices be Online?

Guest Post by Lynne LaMaster
Editor for Prescott eNews

The Arizona Newspaper industry is in a panic.

Why? Because the Arizona State Legislature is considering a bill that would allow public notices to be published online.

Public notices, also known as legal notices, are the columns of government-required announcements one sees in printed newspapers usually placed near the classified section, set in very small type. It contains information about legal issues such as trustee sales, articles of incorporation, foreclosures, delinquent tax lists and domestic relations, just to name a few.

Right now, an old Arizona State law requires that public notices be published in a printed newspaper. But, HB 2403, which is being considered by the House Committee on Technology and Infrastructure would allow public notices to be published either in a newspaper or online.

According to the House website, HB 2403 states, “…that if there is a statutory requirement for a publication of a notice in a newspaper, the person responsible for the publication may publish in the newspaper or may provide notice at a designated site on a worldwide public network of interconnected computers, for at least the specified number of times as prescribed by law.”

Newspapers do not support this proposed law because they would lose a great deal of income if it passes. FundingtheNews.com states on their homepage, “At a time when the financial model for news is facing the greatest crisis in decades, the level of government funding for news organizations has been declining sharply…”
Again from FundingtheNews.com, “Historically, these fine-print notices have been a lucrative business for newspaper publishers, and have touched off heated bidding wars for government contracts… While other forms of advertising have plummeted, public notices have been a bright spot for publishers.”

The question is, why should the government fund news organizations, anyway?

Arguments in Favor of Online Public Notices

The purpose of public notices is for public notification. What’s more public than the Internet? If placed properly online, the information can be searchable and indexed by search engines.

Public notices can be enhanced much more easily online. No more squint-to-read text. Online, it would be easy to add color if necessary, and photos when appropriate. If links to other information would be helpful, they can be added and made clickable. They can be formatted, headlines can be added easily and the content can become comprehensible with a decent layout. Public notices can even be placed in audio files for the disabled, if appropriate.

Public notices can be placed online at a much lower cost than in a newspaper. No ink, paper or distribution costs to pay for. Less waste to the environment.

Our local paper charges the City of Prescott $11 per column inch. Assuming that inch takes about 30 seconds to type in, it adds up to $1320 per hour.

Additionally, the public won’t have to purchase a newspaper to see the notification.
Government agencies and municipalities will save money if they can place their public notices online. Saved money just might end up being saved jobs.

The newspapers shouldn’t be given a free ride. Let them compete. Competition is good, it makes everyone better. Allowing online publication of public notices will simply level the playing field.

It’s time to level out the playing field. The Internet is the future. And that future is now. Nobody’s saying that one shouldn’t be able to publish in a newspaper, just that alternative options should be available.
So, now you understand why the newspapers are writing editorials and placing ads that read, “The fox shouldn’t guard the henhouse. Keep public notices in your local community newspaper,” or, “Don’t let government remove public notices from Arizona Newspapers… public notices need to be public.” After all, newspaper organizations have a monopoly to protect.

In conclusion, online public notices just make sense for almost everyone – except the newspapers. As one city official stated, “Online is easier, cheaper, greener and better. What’s not to like?”

Editor’s note: A hearing is being held on this matter at 9 AM, 1/26/2012, at the Capitol before the Committee on Technology and Infrastructure. Representative David W. Stevens is the Chair of the Committee.