Michigan’s lawmakers are at it again, working hard to limit the ability of the public to know about what they are doing, actions that will lead to less open government in the state and less informed citizens on public issues.
The push – which is becoming an annual event for lawmakers it seems across the United States – is to have public notice legislation changed so that the notices are not required to be printed in newspapers of record, but could instead be listed on government websites.
Newspapers across the state this week heard from the Michigan Press Association (MPA) that State Rep. Steve Johnson (R-Wayland Township) is rearing and ready to go to introduce the legislation. According to the MPA it’s also been confirmed that Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield is firmly behind this movement.
Lets just get this out in the open before I continue. Newspapers, including this publication, have a vested interest in printing public notices. We do get paid to run those government advertisements on things like tax increases, zoning changes, government meetings, government bidding, sales and special elections.
They are an important source of revenue to help us keep the lights on, but most importantly they are important sources of news for the public to let you, the reader, know what is going on with the local and state government.
If the legislation goes through to allow such notices to only be printed on government websites, members of the media – charged with bringing readers up to date and important information – agree that it would be a disservice to the public because they would be required to find that information on their own.
Printed notices are extremely far reaching. Each week the Iosco County News-Herald and Oscoda Press prints around 7,000 newspapers that are distributed around the county, state and all over the United States. These papers are often shared by individuals, so there is no telling how many eyeballs see them each week because people share newspapers.
That paper sitting in the barber shop? One could argue that 10 people may leaf through it before the week is over and a new paper is out. At your grandmother’s house, and she has an Oscoda Press on the table? You may read it before you leave for your visit and so may every one of her bridge partners that stop over for tea.
Also, how many times have you been asked by a person if you’ve seen something in the newspaper this week? People are viewing local news, entertainment, sports and other things, but they’re also viewing the public notices.
Now flip the switch to only having the notices published on government websites. That leaves the responsibility of hunting down public notices to the residents, instead of finding them in one convenient place. Want to find a public notice that is relevant to a resident of Iosco County? A person would have to search through each of the county’s government websites, and county website, to find the notices.
Sometimes the townships are so small in the county they do not have regular facilities for the public much less a website source for publishing public notices. That is not to say that government websites are a bad thing for the public. A lot of information used for stories, information for contacts and other great information is found from the websites. They can be a great asset, but lets be honest; not all websites are the same and web-masters for the sites are more quite often not posting relative information on the sites in a timely manner, or at all. Most government websites, with the exception of a few, are lacking in information. Even the few that are thorough still have irrelevant or old information. Required printing of notices in papers keeps local and state government accountable for printing these notices.
Having a newspaper of record publish the notices is an important tool for providing the public with resources to be informed on public topics. The proof is in the pudding as well; a recent poll from the MPA said that 71 percent of Michigan citizens said they trust local newspapers as a place to find public notices of government activities.
In the same poll 72 percent of respondents felt that placing notices in newspapers or on local newspaper websites, is the most effective way of making governmental activities known.
Public notices need to be in a public place, like a local newspaper, not on a government website, which can also disenfranchise certain uses, like low income individuals who do not have access to the Internet, or the elderly who do not use the Internet or may not know how.
We urge you to contact to your local government representatives, as well as state representatives and senators about this issue, to work to keep public notices where they belong, in local newspapers.