Guest Editorial: Protect public notices in papers

Published 10:25 am Friday, April 15, 2022

Newspapers remain one of the cheapest ways to communicate and establish a reliable public record.

Since the days of Benjamin Franklin, who was one the nation’s earliest printers, to today, the printed word on a piece of paper is the tried and true standard for a historic record.

There are some in the Louisiana State Legislature and elsewhere who think allowing government and business to replace the historic newspaper standard with notices on the internet is a smart idea to save money. But almost all local governments spend much less than 0.09 percent of their budget on public notices.

Senate Bill 322 by Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, would allow local and state government to place their public notices on their websites. That’s a recipe for disaster. We all know the potential for what’s posted on the internet to be changed, hacked or deleted.

Using newspapers as the vehicle for public notices is as old as our republic for good reasons. Once printed in a newspaper, a public notice cannot be altered. The newspaper becomes the permanent and easily accessed source for public information such as city council minutes, elections, public hearings and so on.

Public notices in newspapers help 64 parish governments, 64 sheriff’s offices, 70 school districts and more than 300 municipal governments keep the public informed using a broad network that is trusted and relied upon by the state’s citizens.

Over the years newspapers developed their own websites, a louisianapublicnotice.com website, email delivery and text delivery of public notices. Public notice rates in newspapers have not increased in 30 years even as they expanded access through technological means.

An impediment to using the internet alone for public notices is the lack of broadband access in many rural parishes. Almost 744,000 Louisianans lack the digital literacy to take advantage of the internet, while 1.6 million residents do not have access to high-speed internet.

Newspapers are under tremendous economic strain today and SB 322 adds to the industry’s threats. Big Tech takes 50 percent to 70 percent of every advertising dollar from news publishers, while hiring no local reporters or creating local jobs. Despite the Big Tech threat, newspapers generate a $330.2 million economic impact, employ nearly 5,000 people in the state and pay about $12.7 million in state and local taxes.

Revenue from public notices helps keep newspapers alive and able to report on local government, print community news and photos. Take the public notice revenue away and many local newspapers would be forced to close. A community without a newspaper allows local governments to be less transparent and invites corruption. We oppose Senate Bill 322 and you should also, so please contact your state senator and ask them to vote no on this bad piece of legislation.

Ben Franklin believed the press had a public-service duty and we believe diligently printing public notices is important to large and small communities.

This editorial was distributed by the Louisiana Press Association. It was composed by the Louisiana State Newspapers, an organization of 23 print publications covering much of the state.