What’s more public than this?

A recent survey underscores how much Americans value public notices and why they think they should be published by governments in newspapers and not just on government websites.

For those of us in this business, it’s heartening to hear that 75 percent of those surveyed think governments should be required to publish notices in newspapers. As nice as this endorsement might sound, it is even more important to underscore why we feel public notices should be found on these public pages.

Essentially, public notices contain information telling citizens of government or government-related activities that affect citizens’ everyday lives—things like proposed budgets, notices of local government hearings, bid notices and pre-election notices.

Increasingly, some levels of government have argued that the Internet has become so widely used that it represents a better way of informing the public than newspaper notices.

The problem with this position is that burying notices on government websites cannot replace the value delivered in print. Public notices in newspapers ensures readership by the most likely to be interested or affected by the notices. Plus, the notices arrive at readers’ homes or places of work in a newspaper that delivers local news and advertising that compels readership.

On top of that, a printed notice cannot be hacked, cannot be hidden behind a thicket of links or pop-ups, cannot be changed at a moment’s notice, cannot be made to conveniently disappear, and will not vanish when it is archived.

The survey, done by the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the highly-respected Missouri School of Journalism, stated that 71 percent of those surveyed may have Internet access at home but that 66 percent of them never visit a government website.

The community newspaper is the primary source of information about the local community for 49.4 percent of respondents, the survey found. The next-best source (friends and relatives) ran a distant second at 18 percent.

At The Reporter, our public notices also go to our Internet edition subscribers.—B.C.

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2011-01-06 digital edition

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