As we went to print Wednesday morning, the state House Rules Committee was debating a little ballyhooed bill, S287.
This bill, which shamefully already passed the senate, would stop requiring towns and other municipal entities to run legal notices in newspapers. It allows them instead to place them on their own websites.
It doesn’t take a public policy genius to realize this is a bad, bad idea.
It’s ridiculously easy to hide notices on a website. Websites crash, files get corrupted, e-mail notifications get buried in spam e-mail.
And for those not lucky enough to afford a computer and the monthly expense of Internet, it puts legal notices out of reach. Yes, they can sign up to get paper copies mailed to them (more expensive than running the notice in a newspaper), but they have to remember from year-to-year to renew their request.
Meanwhile, the annual cost of a local community newspaper subscription is less than the cost of Internet for one month.
Tuesday, the House Rules committee voted on S287 and the measure failed to gain a majority. It was a final battle in a long series of skirmishes on this single issue this legislative session.
Then, late Tuesday night it was learned that House Speaker Thom Tillis was forcing the committee to take the issue up again at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Our publisher, Todd Allen, has been there for much of this battle. He texted, “It’s a dogfight,” saying some representatives were being threatened with loss of chairmanships.
All over whether or not legal notices remain in the public domain.
Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, at the behest of the North Carolina Press Association’s Executive Director, Beth Grace, I wrote each of the committee members. A copy of that letter is below.
If it passes out of committee and goes to the floor for a vote, we already know that Representatives Marilyn Avila and Chris Malone have shown themselves as staunch supporters of public access to legal notices and do not support the measure.
Meanwhile, we are bamfoozled that so many others in the party that touted itself as being pro-openness and pro-private enterprise would actively campaign for the exact opposite.
From the editor:
For much of the past legislative session, I have contented myself to keep my nose to the grindstone operating our family business, which happens to be a community newspaper. This is not a newsletter circulated in coffee shops, but rather a full-fledged, robust newspaper that has covered northern Wake and Franklin counties since 1947.
Like most small community businesses, we are a brick-and-mortar entity.
We operate in downtown Wake Forest and employ 20 full- and part-time residents, all from this area.
We outsource nothing, keeping all our layout and design, reporting and writing local to our coverage area.
Our printer is located in Durham, so that is not right in our backyard, but it is still in North Carolina, employing North Carolinians.
The attack on public notices running in newspapers (S287) is an attack on the hundreds of small North Carolina newspapers just like ours.
“Oh ho!” Some of you are bound to say; “It’s about the money!”
No. It’s about doing a job that government cannot do for itself and not being required to do it for free. The worker is worthy of his or her wages (1 Timothy 5:18). Even state legislators, although known as public servants, do not work without compensation.
When a municipality hires a paving company to pave its streets, is it about the money?
Why don’t municipalities run their own paving companies?
Why doesn’t the state operate state-run contractors to lay in the interstates and construct public housing and the like?
It is because private enterprise works harder, faster, and more efficiently than the public sector.
Private business has to meet and beat competition. Private business can’t raise taxes to meet a budget; private business has to fend for itself.
Why, then, is the Legislature bent on doing the exact opposite with public notices?
Newspapers are more efficient — we are in the business of communication.
Newspapers are also in the business of shining light on the workings of government.
When we publish legal notices in our newspaper or website, we do not force readers to subscribe to each section of the newspaper or website so that they get the right legal notice.
Readers never have to worry about whether or not they got on the right e-mail list to stay on top of things.
Readers don’t have to worry about clicking though a confusing maze of webpages. Nor will their e-mail boxes fill up, only a small percentage being what they’re actually looking for.
Readers don’t have to have a special instrument to access a newspaper.
They don’t have to upgrade their newspaper service every year or so to continue to receive their paper.
Newspapers don’t crash. They don’t get viruses. They don’t have annoying pop-up ads. They don’t require routers and passwords, and the need to understand how to surf the ‘net.
Best, even a daily paper subscription these days is far cheaper than the cost of Internet and a computer for the same amount of time.
A year’s subscription to a community paper is usually half the cost of just one month’s supply of Internet connectivity.
And, even if you live out in the woods, with no hope of ever seeing a cable line laid to your house, you can still get your community paper delivered.
I urge you, please vote against S287. Please keep in mind all the local folks that are positively affected by community newspapers.
If you are unfamiliar with all the great, often pro bono, work community newspapers do, please let us know. We will personally bring you a copy (or two or three) of our outstanding publications.
Please consider whether or not this piece of legislation is really about making access to public information easier and more efficient; and whether or not you want to be associated with the state of North Carolina moving backwards, away from openness and toward more state control.
Thank you very much,