Public notices should continue to be printed

One of the many important functions of newspapers is to carry the paid public notices that government entities are required to publish about their activities. Such notices typically are in small print, but their subjects often are large, involving important potential changes affecting our homes, schools, neighborhoods and jobs.

        Public entities must publish notices when they want to change an ordinance, conduct public hearings, increase rates and other actions. Newspapers are the perfect medium for informing the masses with such information because they are tangible, widely available, inexpensive compared to other media and become part of the community record.

        However, three communities — Trenton, Wayne and Ann Arbor — will vote on Nov. 3 whether to allow their local governments to post public notices on their Web sites on the Internet only and cease publishing them in print.

        We think that’s a bad idea, one that will cut many citizens off from the flow of information our governments by law must provide.

        In the interest of full disclosure, newspapers charge for public notices, and newspaper publishers would rather not lose that revenue. But the larger issue is that removing public notices from print publication would keep knowledge of public processes from many people who already may be disenfranchised: the poor, minorities, senior citizens and anyone else who may not have the resources or the ability to use the Internet well.

        Fact is that newspapers still are the most effective way for governments to reach the greatest number of people in a given area with this type of public information, unless you consider direct mailings of all notices. But that would be very expensive.

        There is no reason governments cannot post public notices on their Web sites, and many of them do so now. But if those notices can’t be found quickly and easily, then fewer people will be able to see and act on them. Besides, newspapers offer the public an independent source for such information, which helps make government more transparent for the governed.

        Finally, printed public notices in newspapers ensure that the information will be delivered and available to many thousands of people in a single product without them having to make any special effort, other than paging through the paper. Were notices to be posted online only, all of those many thousands of people would have to actively search the Web sites of various local governments regularly to see if any new public notices had been posted that might affect them. That does not sound like transparency.

        No, public notices belong in the local newspaper where they can continue to be part of the daily revelation of the life of the community — and the actions of governments.