The economic plight of newspapers in the internet age will be up for debate in the 2010 session of the Connecticut General Assembly and intertwined with arguments about the public’s right to know.
Gov. Rell has called for ending the requirement that governments publish certain legal notices in newspapers, according to the New Britain Herald in a Feb. 5th story.
For many citizens posting public notices and other information on the public business is sufficient on a town’s web site. It meets the public’s right to know more effectively and it saves publication costs at a time when government is looking to scrimp and save.
The newspaper industry, however, is mounting a counter argument that many among us are essentially Luddites when it comes to where we get information. A substantial portion of the citizenry, the industry says, relies on public notices in a linear way or we won’t get it at all. That is a strong argument in New Britain where a good portion of the reading public is older and accustomed to newsprint over using the mouse to click on http://www.new-britain.net/
It seems the intent of public notice laws (and publication requirements) are to make information as accessible to the widest possible audience members who need to hear it. In that sense, it may not be enough to simply post on a city or town website. The argument for publication in a general circulation publication is that the wide audience will know it. It would seem a legal notice posted in an online publication would have the same weight as the printed page but at rates that are probably lower than conventional display ads. What should be determine is the real dollar savings of cutting out print ads versus the need for a greater portion of the public to be informed. One possible compromise to the legislation — if it is not already there — would be to make the policy a local option law for each city and town to decide on its own.
The issue of printed legal notices is akin to newspaper classifieds which were once a cash cow for newspapers. The internet is simply an easier way for renting, selling and all kinds of individual transactions that makes classifieds in newspapers dinosaurs. The newspaper business simply needs to come up with an economic model where more revenue comes out of information technology instead of the presses.
Having said all that here’s a Luddite vote to keep printing those notices for now but not much longer.
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CT Mirror story (http://www.ctmirror.com/story/newspapers-oppose-plan-put-legal-ads-line) notes that one town upheld the legal notice requirement but used a weekly at about a fifth of the cost. Not good news for the Herald but the upstart Hardware City Journal would give New Britain government that option.