Sunday, March 17, 2013

Davidson News Editor David Boraks Speaks on Public Notice BIll in North Carolina

While looking over the internet in regards to public notices in North Carolina I came along this post from May 14, 2011 on a web site called Global Vue about journalism and technology titled "N.C. legislators turn back effort to take legal notices out of newspapers".

What grabbed me was a comment from the editor of the Davidson News in David Boraks . I made a call to David Boraks and he allowed me to publish his comment which is very relevant today and if we are going to discuss upcoming public notice bills in the State of North Carolina like
 Senate Bill 186. Here is what was said

There’s another angle on this, which hasn’t been discussed much. In some communities, there is no viable print product with wide reach that could reasonably meet the spirit of the legal notice requirements.

Let’s remember the goal: The public notice law is there to ensure that a wide audience of local readers has access to legal notices. While it currently requires print publication, that may be outdated in some places.

In Davidson, the closest qualifying paper is a weekly in the next town over that has little or no circulation in Davidson (I hear it sells a dozen copies here). But it meets the letter of the law. So the town of Davidson spends thousands of dollars a year on ads that nobody in town will ever see. The scare tactics of the print-press lobby just don’t hold water here.

The legislation under consideration would allow towns and counties to use their own websites. That does not strike me as an unreasonable option. One of the newspaper industry arguments against the bill is that some people or some communities may not have internet access and would be cut off. This assumes people have access to the newspaper where the notices are published. (Again, what if your town publishes its legal notices in a publication that doesn’t circulate in your town? Or what if the majority of citizens don’t subscribe to papers?)

Once, newspapers were a reasonable option, because household penetration exceeded 80 or even 100 percent (more than one newspaper per household). But today, newspaper penetration is one-third of that, and in some communities is below 20 percent. Newspapers (the printed version) are no longer the mass medium they once were. In fact, internet penetration in most communities today far exceeds that of newspapers. So it’s not really fair to say that ending newspaper publication of legal notices is the end of the world. A good publicity campaign can ensure that citizens know that their town or county website is the place to go for legal notices.

There also may be other options. Instead of fighting to keep an outdated law that protects legacy print media, we as a new industry should be pushing for a law that opens this up to legitimate community-based online sources. For many newspapers, online sites now have more readers than print products. We should be fighting for a law that requires online notices on general interest local websites. This could include the websites of daily newspapers, weeklies, etc. (Of course what’s missing right now, though, are standards for what amount of web traffic would be required and how it should be measured.)

Of course I have a vested interest: I publish a daily online news website in our town. According to our traffic numbers, we reach a large percentage of households in Davidson, and we could be a viable alternative for legal notices. But that’s not allowed under the current law and would not be required under the proposed legislation in NC right now. And it’s not clear whether the town would choose to post legals on our site.

If the newspaper lobby would consider adapting to a new local information reality, one that includes online, we’d still have strong arguments to make. The most important would be to address the question of whether town or county websites are adequate. In Davidson, town leaders acknowledge that reaches more readers than the town website. If the test were who reaches the most local citizens, our site would be the logical solution. I’d love to see a bill with language that requires online publication and, if available, in an online community publication that meets (yet to be determined) traffic standards.

Great points by David Boraks and in the future hopefully more indviduals like David will be at the table talking about new and better ways to get public notices out to the masses and maybe along the way save taxpayers in this state money that does not need to be spent on the paid newspaper publication of public notices.

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