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Don’t take notices away from readers

March 16, 2011
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

Why should you read the legal notices in the newspaper? The paper is chock-full of valuable information that you should be aware of because it affects your life. Nevertheless, a bill in the proposed state budget would eliminate the requirement for government bodies to publish legal notices to the public.

While state governments are considering eliminating legals from newspapers to save money, what they really would do is make it harder on the public to find out about government actions that affect us all. If taken out of newspapers and put on government websites, these notices would no longer come to you but be buried - difficult to find even if you know what you are looking for.

People look to newspapers for news, not government websites.

Article Photos

Simply put, newspapers deliver information right to you, while online you have to seek it out - and first know that there is something to look for and where to look for it. How many people are going to check innumerable local and state government websites daily to see if there is anything that affects them? As it is now, the notices that affect you are compiled neatly in your local newspaper's classified ads, where you can easily check them every day.

Newspapers have been printing these notices for more than a century. Recently, many newspapers, such as ours, have been collaborating to provide online access to public notice advertisements across the U.S. on MyPublicNotices.com. We do a better job than government at reaching both print and online audiences.

A newspaper is the historical record of a community. Public business should be in it, in the interests of public knowledge, government accountability and the historical record we leave for future generations.

Once published, legal notices can't be changed - unlike websites. Each government agency would have to secure its legal-notice website to make it litigation-proof - an extra cost that still doesn't make it as good as a newspaper of historical record, independent from government, printing this information publicly in hard copy.

Legal notices provide news reporters stories that expose waste or fraud, thereby saving the taxpayers money when exposed.

Legals can protect our health by warning people of pesticide spraying on local lands or waterways.

New businesses can be found in the legal section as they apply for their Limited Liability Corporation permits, liquor licenses, land variances, building permits, etc. That's how people here first found out about a new hotel that the Lussi family plans to build beside Mirror Lake in Lake Placid - something an Enterprise reporter looked into for a full report on page 1. Otherwise, it might have been kept secret for many months.

If we let counties keep election notices just on their own websites, that would only add to the number of voters who are uninformed when they go to the polls.

Tax legals are another valuable example. Those behind on their property taxes quickly pay to avoid the embarrassment of seeing their names in the newspaper, so for a county, collecting the overdue tax revenue more than pays for running the legal notice. Plus, readers who skim through the legal section for delinquent tax listings or foreclosures can find real deals and take the burden off the county.

Legal notices tell you what your state government is up to. It was through legal notices in the Enterprise that people here first found out when the state planned to auction the former Camp Gabriels prison - again, something that led to a reporter's full story.

Legal notices inform you of eminent-domain proceedings, public meetings, unclaimed public funds, people not responsible for their spouses' debts, non-discriminatory policies regarding students and other government actions that affect citizens.

Newspapers are concerned with informing the public. The advertising revenue is secondary since the charge is not set by the newspaper but by the Legislature, and has been the same for the past 21 years - not a big profit for us, but a bigger service to our communities.

If government bodies start removing legal notices from newspapers to post on their own websites, it would be more complex, less transparent and, in general, a huge disservice to the public.

 
 

 

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