TN Press Association Policy Director Frank Gibson urges newspapers to step up Public Notice education

In Advocacy on May 21, 2012 at 3:53 pm

The Tennessee Press Association’s Public Policy Director is encouraging newspapers across the state to be diligent in educating both the public at large and elected officials about the importance of continuing to publish public notices in local newspapers rather than government-owned, government-maintained, government-controlled websites. TPA’s Frank Gibson reminded newspaper professionals, “Since more than two-thirds of Tennessee newspapers also publish notices on their websites, citizens are still more likely to see notices published and posted by local newspapers than anywhere else. And, 45% of Tennessee households still buy newspapers. More than half of households in 60 of the state’s 95 counties subscribed to or bought newspapers last year. To be fair and honest, only 29% of households in a 2011 statewide Connected Tennessee survey reported ‘interacting with local government websites or elected officials.'” Gibson has consistently expressed his concerns about the dangers from a group of state lawmakers who have sought to eliminate requirements for public notices to be placed in newspapers for the purpose of informing the public, hoping to opt instead to have those notices placed on government websites, ostensibly to save local governments money. However, the policy director noted, ” that a “Fiscal Review Committee report found that 37% of city and county governments do not have websites. The committee estimated it would cost $7.5 million ‘one-time’ and $3.5 million ‘recurring’ (annually) for those 167 local governments to develop and maintain their own websites. Those costs are never factored in when government officials advocate change. Nor is the value of having notices distributed by independent and verifiable sources. The importance of ‘independent’ is self-evident, but verifiable has two advantages.Not only can a newspaper prove that a notice ran when it was supposed to and in the form requested, but many newspapers have audited readership and the others must provide the U. S. Postal Service sworn statements of circulation. Proponents of change will argue that newspaper readership is dwindling, but they don’t acknowledge that those readers have typically migrated to the newspaper’s website. The latest research shows that 70% of adults regularly read newspapers OR newspaper websites.”

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