The undercurrent in Nashville continues to be a move by some to eliminate statutory publication of legal notices in general circulation newspapers in favor of publishing such notices on government websites.
Who favors such a move?
Public officials who have a beef with their local newspaper, financial and other institutions who would rather pocket an otherwise additional expense, and lawmakers who favor opaqueness rather than transparency in government.
What rationale is being used?
One young lawmaker we’re told is fond of saying, “No one reads newspapers anymore.” Maybe no one in his circle of influence reads newspapers, but then perhaps his constituents should question whether he is casting informed votes. Chances are, more than 80 percent of his constituents are better informed than the man they elected to represent their district.
To expound upon the words of Roman statesman and philosopher Marcus Cicero, there is no lie so unbelievable that if you repeat it often enough, people will come to believe the lie: The truth is, community newspapers easily make up the largest number of newspapers in Tennessee. They are still being read and they are still being counted upon as the No. 1 place to obtain information, according to a recent study.
In a four-year study, the National Newspaper Association and University of Missouri concluded, “The local community newspaper is the primary source of information about the local community for 60 percent of respondents: that’s four times greater than the second and third most popular sources of local news (TV/14 percent and friends and relatives/13.4 percent).”
Among other findings cited by the University of Missouri study:
- 81 percent of those surveyed read a local newspaper each week and shared their paper with 2.36 additional readers.
- They spent about 40 minutes with their newspaper, and 73 percent read most or all of their newspaper.
- They like to keep it around: Nearly 40 percent hang on to their papers for more than a week.
- Three-quarters of readers read local news often to very often in their community newspaper, but 53 percent say they never read local news online; 12 percent say they read local news often to very often online.
- Of those who do go online for local news, where do they go? Sixty-three percent go to the local newspaper’s website. (Only 12 percent go to a local TV station’s website.)
- Lawmakers and other public officials take note: Sixty-eight percent have never visited the website of local government. Part of the reason could be because 30 percent do not even have Internet access in the home.
In short, the system we have for bringing public notices before taxpayers is not broken and changing statutory requirements to allow for merely posting them on government websites locks out a significant number of people.
Moving public notices to government websites? Who would notice?
Maybe that’s the real motivation.
It will be interesting to see the nature of such legislation and who is pushing the change.