Minnesota legislators will be convening soon, and one of the first proposals they will be considering is a bill to allow local governments to put public notices on their own websites and abandon the requirement to pay newspapers to print them.
We strongly disagree with this proposal. Yes, it would remove a source of revenue for newspapers. But we oppose it as well because the public will not be well served by removing newspapers as the main source for legal notices.
The public notice requirement was provide important information to the public about their government in a place where the public is most likely to see it. People already look to us for news reports about local government, so it only makes sense that they will look to us for public notices as well. Public notices allow citizens to make informed decisions and be active participants in their government. They lead to transparency in government.
Would public notices be as widespread if they were only available on government web sites? It may seem like everyone is online these days, but there are many people who don't have computers, or internet access. The impoverished may not be able to afford computers or internet service. Many senior citizens are computer literate, but many are not. But they do read newspapers.
Newspapers, contrary to popular belief, are not moribund, are not obsolete. Readership remains high, especially among those eager to find the local community news they don't find on TV news, or on internet web sites clogged with the latest doings of Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber. Newspapers' websites are also the first place people go online to find reliable news of local happenings.
Newspapers have supported common sense changes in legal notice regulations, including the law passed ten years ago requiring newspapers that public legal notices in their pages to also place them on their web sites at no charge.
Yes, newspapers make money from publishing legal notices. The Minnesota Newspaper Association estimates most newspapers earn from 1 to 5 percent of their revenue from public notices. This is money that helps pay local taxes and provide jobs for local people.
But more than that, newspapers in America have always served as part of the checks and balances in a community, one that keeps citizens informed and government on its toes. Part of that job includes publishing legal notices. Taking that away, and putting it in the hands of government alone, would weaken those checks and balances.
We hope our local legislators will reject this change in the way local government has done business for many, many years.