The World of Publishing Legal Notices is Changing. Enter the On Line Publisher to Influence Legislation
At long last, the little guys are starting to band together.
In the two years that we've been covering the legal notices battles in state legislatures across the country, a pattern has developed and has repeated itself in the proposal of over 30 bills:
STEP 1.)In each state the government relations representative from the Association of County Managers or the League of Municipalities finds a state representative to sponsor a bill allowing local governments to post notices on line
STEP 2) The state representative sponsors a bill that allows the local governments to post notices on their own web site.
STEP 3.) The local newspapers and state press associations use their own editorial space as a bully pulpit and write editorials criticizing the representative sponsoring the bill. .
STEP 4.) The local newspapers lobby their representatives with the threat that if they vote down this bill good luck getting any newspaper's endorsement. Specifically they criticize the idea that the government should not be publishing the notices, an "independent third party" should.
STEP 5.) The bill gets "stuck in committee" and dies before the legislative session is over. Or the bill may make it to a vote in the state house or senate where it loses.
In February of this year, we reported about the emergence of a third player in the game, the on line news organization, when in Arizona, PrescottENews Publisher Lynne LaMaster shepherded a legal notice bill to the House Technology & Infrastructure committee.
Howard Owens, Publisher of The Batavian, an on line news web site in Northern New York State, is going about influencing perception the right way. The journalism community is taking note. A recent article entitled Lobbying for On-Line Legal Notices: How Community Publishers Can Take Action" on the web site for the Knight Digital Media Center focuses on Owens' strategy in pushing through legislation. A 20 year journalism veteran, Owens has edited and written for daily newspapers.
New York Assembly Bill 8075 which did not make it out of committee, offered a unique solution. It contemplates using an independent publisher to publish notices thus mitigating the "independence issue" raised successfully by print newspapers.
Owens realizes that this is an uphill battle but is in it for the long haul. He understands that his cost structure will always be lower than his competitor and that the influence of the on line publisher continues to increase at the expense of the print publisher. He does not delude himself but sees movement in public perception of moving legal notices on line:
"“Our direct competitor sent a letter to city council and legislature opposing it. Tom Turnbull [publisher of the local paper, theBatavia Daily News] sent a letter urging the Batavia City Council to oppose these bills. But they voted unanimously to support them. That’s amazing. It used to be that city councils would never blatantly oppose the local newspaper,” he said.
Owens also mentionded that he is not going away any time soon and looks forward to proposinging legislation allowing notices to be published on line in the years ahead.