Every year state legislatures around the country initiate bills to remove the requirements for public notices to be published in print in favor of online only. Don’t wait for a bill to pass. Here are 10 pro-active things publishers and media organizations can do right now to protect their public notice franchises.
- Make sure your public notices are online as well as in print.
This is a major theme of Richard Karpel, director of the Public Notice Resource Center, the only association dedicated to public notice research. He advises newspapers to digitize public notices to deflate any argument that other online sources are more searchable and that newspapers have failed to modernize.
- Make it easy to purchase public notices.
Purchasing public notices online with a variety of requirements for insertion frequency, dates, font sizes and so on, is notoriously difficult for newspapers, private parties, and state organizations. It does not have to be this way. AdPortal Public Notices provides an automated front end that pre-configures all the requirements into a simple, easy-to-use user experience that publishes both in print and online.
- Keep your trusted media brand front and center.
Without the backing of a newspaper, public notices would have a hard time being found by any public audience. When the Colorado State Press Association needed to counter a legislative bill attacking public notice requirements, one publisher in south Denver was able to say that public notices in his paper were ‘bestsellers’. This initiative, too, ultimately failed to pass.
- Promote public notices, don’t bury them.
“Don’t just stick them in the back of your newspaper and forget about them,” Karpel advises. “The easiest way to innovate in this area is through design. There are so many newspapers that run notices in a manner that makes readers think, ‘Did they want to hide this intentionally?’
- Find the real cost in per-capita tax dollars in your state. – it is much lower than anyone thinks.
Most public notice bills aimed at dropping requirements start off as punitive towards newspapers, however, the political argument is typically a financial one. Even $32 million, attributed by Chris Christi, in his attack on public notice revenues, winds up being a savings of just under $4 per person per year when you divide by the 8.8 million people who live in New Jersey. Only a fraction are even paid by tax dollars; most are paid by private individuals. According to an article in Poynter, an attack bill in Indiana was defeated in part by using this math. Stephen Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, was able to point out that savings per Indiana adult were just 50 cents per year. “I’ve never heard any average Hoosier say that’s an outrageous waste of their tax dollars,” he said. The initiative failed.
- Sell the value proposition of a trusted 3rd party source for government information.
The legal requirement is one way of guaranteeing that citizens can access government reporting without alteration. If anything, the government should be required to publish more vetted government data—not less—even if it is used only for specific purposes.
- Use personal relationships with state legislators and the governor.
Convey importance, urgency, and value propositions for public notices in person. The governor is particularly important since they have historically vetoed anti-newspaper bills passed by a more partisan legislature.
- Use the power of the press.
In 2020, when the Florida state legislature proposed taking public notices out of local newspapers, The Tampa Bay Times wrote editorial, contending that smaller newspapers “are often the sole independent source about what local government is up to in their communities” and would be disproportionately affected. Florida’s publishing requirements for public notices remained in place.
- Participate in national lobbying efforts for public notices.
A recent letter from news groups to Congress, for example, endorsed Steven Waldman’s proposal that governments place as much as $1 billion more ads such as military recruitment ads, census information, and health alerts in newspapers, building on the 100-year-old tradition of requiring public notices be published in print.
- Sign up for the Public Notice Resource Center’s news alerts.
“We’re the only national organization focused on public notices…and follows all 50 states and analyzes the bills,” said Karpel. This group keeps you up-to-date on initiatives around the country as well as successful strategies used by other publishers and media organizations.