Continuing to see public notices published in local newspapers is a major focus for LPA.
LPA believes having information about the actions of government circulated in a community increases opportunities for people to see public notices and monitor the actions of government officials, creating an opportunity for transparency that cannot otherwise be achieved.
LPA realizes not everyone in a community reads the local official public journal (OPJ) newspaper so that’s why LPA supported state legislation that requires official public journals to not only publish the notices in their newspaper but also to post the notices online, to increase the accessibility of the notices.
LPA even hosts its public notices online portal where official public journals around the state post their notices to make them easily accessible for those who prefer them online and making it easy to get the notices online even for smaller official public journals whose local website might have limited capabilities.
The benefit of public notices isn’t in having them printed or posted -- it’s in having them seen, and that’s why continuing to use newspapers and newspaper websites is beneficial. The OPJs’ combined circulation of notices in print and online can typically deliver a significantly greater audience than a typical government website.
Even those who don’t subscribe to their local paper have reasons to check out it out or visit their local paper’s website to see what’s happening in their community… including seeing some public notices.
Few likely visit their city or parish’s website as often, so their chance of seeing a public notice there are extremely limited.
LPA members should visit the Public Notice Resource Center’s website at www.pnrc.net. It has tons of good information about why public notices are important, and why it’s important public notices continue to be circulated in newspapers.
An article recently posted on the PNRC site told how a Cape Cod fire chief got a “ton of inquiries” after publishing a public notice seeking bids for an old fire truck that was described as having a rotting frame as well as water tank and brake issues. The fire chief was excited at the prospect of selling the old fire truck for more than just scrap, demonstrating the value of a public notice and proving people do notice them in their local paper.
And if you think government website generate more attention for public notices, read this story on the PRNC site about how people in Arkansas were furious to be surprised about an issue in their community that no one knew about despite it having been posted on a government website.
After this Arkansas incident, laws were changed to require these notices be published in local newspapers, to better get the word out to residents about future efforts under consideration.
An added benefit of publishing public notices in a newspaper versus a government website is to keep the process independent and free of politics, and to create a permanent archive of the notices.
Another story on the PRNC website told how it was discovered in one North Carolina county how two county commissioners had their names omitted from a list of those delinquent on property taxes, and how the same two had been omitted from previous years’ delinquent tax lists.
The process of protecting certain individuals by deleting their names was found to go back at least two decades according to a former tax office employee contacted by the local paper for a story on the names being omitted.
Think how easy it would be for some government employee to simply delete names from a public notice maintained on a government website. Some names could be there one day, then gone the next.
Notices published in a local paper and on the paper’s website would be independent, and permanent.
Once a notice is printed in the official public journal, it couldn’t be “unpublished” so there’d always be a historical record.
Click here to read an editorial about why it’s a bad idea to let public officials post public notices on their government websites, written by the PNRC’s director
The PRNC website has lots of other practical information about public notices, including an article with ideas for using public notices to generate stories of great interest to your readers that I think is worth considering for your newsroom.
Newspapers and their websites continue to be an effective tool in serving the public’s right to know about the actions of its government by delivering important public notices to a wide community audience.
LPA member publications that are OPJs need to take that designation seriously and work hard to effectively and efficiently deliver these notices. The PNRC website is a great place to learn a lot about public notices, and newspapers’ ability to best deliver them.
Will Chapman is the executive director of LPA. He worked in the newspaper industry, at various times in most every aspect of the business. He’s a past president of LPA following his father and grandfather who also held that office. Email him at email@example.com, or call him at 225-344-9309 (ext 108).