By Paul Gorski
This is a follow-up to my: “Meet John Doe: Keep public notices in print” from Feb. 25. Again, according to “Sosnowski calls for public notices to be pulled from papers” by Shane Nicholson, Feb. 20 issue, State Representative Joe Sosnowski (R-Rockford) wants to “end the publication of public and government notices in newspapers.”
I oppose Sosnowski’s ill-advised plan. Public, especially government, notices of meetings, hearings and other important events should be posted in local newspapers as it is in the public interest to do so.
We cannot have a free, open, deliberative government unless we know when our public bodies are meeting to discuss important issues.
Sosnowski fails to realize: 1) many people get their news from newspapers and 2) local governments will not save much money by posting notices only online.
According the American Press Institute (API) (americanpressinstitute.org/publications/reports/survey-research/how-americans-get-news/, retrieved online March 8, 2015): “More than 6 in 10 Americans say they prefer getting news directly from a news organization compared with any other way.”
In addition, “print publications are still used by nearly half of young adults 18-29 and just over half of adults 30-39 (47 percent and 55 percent, respectively)” despite the “digital divide” between older and younger newsreaders.
According to the same API report, “newspapers are the most popular source of news about one’s local town or city, art and culture, and schools and education.”
“The Rock River Times” is proof of that. Local weekly newspapers, such The Rock River Times, specialize in local news and events, and that is one reason why this paper’s print and online readership is stable, even growing.
One important reason for publishing public notices in print is to legally document the notice posting.
In the event of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request regarding the posting, a local government needs only produce a copy of the notice supplied to the newspaper, a receipt for payment of the posting, and a copy of the notice from the newspaper. Proving an online posting is more complicated and could be costly.
If notices were posted online only, local governments would have to: 1) have a website; 2) have the staff post notices on the website; and 3) have an archive versioning system that would keep track of the notices, dates of posting, dates of updating, and dates notices were pulled down.
Sure, setting up a basic website and having someone update it may not be difficult. However, basic website tools do not offer the backup and versioning tools required to respond to FOIA requests–your small, local governments will be on the hook for paying and supporting these special services.
I find it odd that Sosnowski is trying to keep public notices out of print newspapers like this one. This paper has printed once, if not twice, Sosnowki’s comments on this issue.
For some reason the editor found his comments newsworthy. I do not think Sosnowski would appreciate newspapers and television stations censoring or banning his opinions from their news reporting just to save a buck.
Government notices are as much news as is the idle banter of our elected politicians. I should know: I am an elected official too. Keep public notices in print.
Paul Gorski (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Cherry Valley Township resident who also authors the Tech-Friendly column seen in this newspaper.