it’s time to stop publishing legal notices in newspapers

On Tuesday, the city council will approve the Green Bay Press-Gazette as our official newspaper to publish legal notices. Chapter 985 of Wisconsin State Statutes states that not only do we have to publish these notices, but that we do it only in newspapers that meet certain requirements.

As we’ve approved this measure each year that I’ve been on the council, I’ve been concerned for those of us who do not get our news from newspapers. I haven’t used a newspaper in years. All my news comes from TV or the internet. So, how do we proceed in a way that does not hide our legal notices from people who don’t use newspapers?

PewResearch: Main Source for NewsI decided to see if there is any reputable research with some statistics that can guide us on this important question. I’m looking for two things. First, is it true that fewer and fewer people are getting their news from newspapers? And second, if so, is there an alternative that is reasonable and affordable?

It didn’t take much effort for me to find this study published by the PewResearch Center in October 2013. During July 2013, they asked Americans where they get their news. Only 28% said newspapers. Nine years earlier, that number was closer to 50%. So the trend is obvious. And since we’re now almost 2 years removed from that study, I wouldn’t be surprised if the number is now closer to 20%. People just aren’t using newspapers like they used to. Yet state law requires that we use newspapers for legal notice publications.

So if we were to stop using newspapers, what’s the alternative? Well, the same study also tells us that 50% of respondents use the internet for their main news source. Nine years earlier, that number was 18%. Again, an obvious trend. The great thing about the internet is that most municipalities already have their own web site, therefore making such a change will take little effort, and will probably save money in the long run. This seems like a win win.

Now, before we starting considering factors that don’t matter, I want to be clear. It shouldn’t matter why people are no longer using newspapers. It shouldn’t matter how sentimental we are for the gold ole days. The trends are real, and the gap is widening. Facts are facts.

These numbers are already two years old, and it seems quite apparent that it’s time to end our decades long practice of publishing legal notices in newspapers. We owe it to our citizens to use a medium that reaches over 50% of people who consume news.

To this end, I’ve contacted our state representative André Jacques to see if he’ll take this on in his legislative work in Madison. I’ll keep you posted.