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State Newspaper Assoc. Opposes Moving Legal Notices Online

RICHMOND – At their annual lobbying day, members of the Virginia Press Association opposed two House bills that would let local governments post their public notices on their websites instead of publishing them in local newspapers.

The VPA, which represents the state’s newspapers, says the bills are a threat to the public’s access to government information. WYDaily is not a member of the VPA.

“We’re just not to the point where this is a sensible decision,” said Ginger Stanley, executive director of the VPA. “Newspapers have permanence, and websites can easily crash or be hacked into.”

Public notices are official announcements about public hearings, government contracts, proposed laws, zoning applications, court proceedings and other matters. By law, governments must publish these notices in local newspapers; you’ll often find them in the classified-ads section.

But in recent years, legislators and other state officials have been pushing to relax or remove the requirement that these legal ads be printed in the paper. For example, House Bill 1378, proposed by Delegate Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, would allow localities in Virginia to publish the notices on a secured government website instead. That’s one of the bills opposed by the VPA.

Some state officials would like to move the notices online to save money – and because fewer people are reading newspapers.

Cole says his bill is a logical step in keeping with technological trends.

“We’re just moving from a paper environment to an electronic environment, and we want to move forward with 21st century technology,” Cole said.

Opponents of HB 1378 argue that government websites can be unreliable and that not everyone has Internet access. They also say a website posting does not have the authenticity of a printed legal advertisement. They say governmental notices should be printed by an independent entity – the local newspaper.

In addition, opponents say that without proper management, online information can be altered by hackers or other people. Public notices printed in a newspaper are more readily available for all citizens, the VPA said in its 2013 “Capitol Discussions” pamphlet.

The Virginia Coalition for Open Government, which promotes transparency in government, supports the VPA on the issue.

“Some areas in Virginia do not have Internet capabilities, and print-based methods are more thorough and easily reached by a larger number of people,” said Megan Rhyne, the coalition’s executive director.

On Thursday, a subcommittee of the House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns discussed HB 1378 and a similar measure, HB 1373, by Delegate Christopher Head, R-Roanoke. Head’s bill would let localities with at least 50,000 residents meet the public notice requirements by utilizing their websites, radio or television systems.

Proponents say their proposals would save local governments money. However, the VPA and its allies attended Thursday’s meeting to argue otherwise.

“Last year, the town of Damascus spent $723 on print-based public articles, which provided more than 2 million views,” Stanley said. “The cost of printing public notices in the paper is very low, and the ability to reach such far-extending populations has been proven.”

On a voice vote of 11-0, the subcommittee combined HB 1373 and HB 1378. The panel is looking to revise wording of the legislation so localities would have the option of publishing public notices in print or on the Web.

 

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Posted by on January 22, 2013. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

4 Responses to State Newspaper Assoc. Opposes Moving Legal Notices Online

  1. Aging out! Reply

    January 22, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    “Newspapers have permanence, and websites can easily crash or be hacked into.”
    -Ginger Stanley, executive director of the VPA

    This woman should be fired, today! Talk about resistance to change…I agree 100% with John Womeldorf. The local print paper is delivered to about 30% of our Community…Wake up people!!

  2. is this really about information or really about the money Reply

    January 22, 2013 at 10:52 am

    The statement that a town spent $723 all year and reached more than 2 million viewers is absurd on it’s face – I don’t believe we could run one add for that

    Is anyone suggesting newspaper cannot print information – don’t believe that’s the case Simple request is stop holding public notices and taxpayer money hostage to a monopoly
    ya know be pro-choice, allow for more options than restrictions

    Perhaps the “newspapers” could publish notices as a public service, not a huge profit center – that is if this is about information and not just greed

    Kudos to WYD for leading by example

  3. desperate times Reply

    January 22, 2013 at 10:10 am

    The VPA objections are a last gasp of a dying media to save the few revenue streams they still have. Print papers have not progressed with the times. They are to blame for their financial problems. Instead of taking the lead in web based papers, the print media has resisted progress. The result is that many longtime papers have either gone under or are struggling to stay afloat. We have this very situation right here in our area.

    VCOG is an excellent organization, but they were started by a newspaper man and most of their funding comes from news organizations. I hope that their support is indeed heartfelt and not financially motivated.

  4. john womeldorf Reply

    January 22, 2013 at 9:27 am

    I know the newspapers need ad revenue but as a taxpaying citizen it makes no sense to continue printing notices in papers. Put them online and save the money.

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