PNRC holds first public notice conference

Nov 1, 2016

By Richard Karpel
NNA | NNA Public Policy

The Public Notice Resource Center’s premier public notice conference packed the room Sept. 22 on the first day of the National Newspaper Association’s Annual Convention in Franklin, TN. The half-day symposium featured panels on best practices, legislative strategy and the importance of publishing public notices on the web, and presentations on design and the state of public notice. The conference was sponsored by Tecnavia, Nevada Legal News and the Illinois Press Association.

“Whether newspapers remain in print for another hundred years or become totally digital or somehow get wired directly into Apple watches, we can still be the providers of public notice,” said PNRC President Brad Thompson, chief executive officer of Detroit Legal News Co., in his introduction. “But only if we do the job right.” He explained the goal of the conference was to provide publishers with tools and tips to meet that challenge.

The legislative panel that followed addressed the publishers’ role in helping the newspaper industry protect public notice in state capitals. Panelists described battles narrowly won and advised publishers to form and maintain relationships with elected officials and government agency personnel. Matt Paxton, publisher of the News-Gazette in Lancaster, VA, also counseled the audience to pay close attention to what the other side is saying and fact-check their data. In Virginia, Paxton said, a legislator who sponsored a bill moving construction bid notices in Virginia Beach to government websites refused ever to support another public notice bill pushed by city officials after learning they had overstated the city’s annual public notice expense by $600,000.

The next panel discussed the strategic utility of the press association websites that now aggregate public notices in most states, and stressed the importance of publishers’ posting notices to their own sites and to their association’s. Every panelist agreed the websites serve a vital role in defending public notice. Several states have even taken the step of enacting legislation requiring public notices to be posted on their press association’s site. Panel moderator Eric Barnes, publisher and CEO of Memphis Daily News Co. described the impact the law has had in Tennessee, and urged other newspaper groups to “get ahead of the game” and push for similar legislation in their states. Beth Bennett, executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, expressed frustration that lawmakers in her state continue to press for third-party online public notice providers, even though they already have one in WNA.

PNRC Co-Director Tonda Rush presented an overview of PNRC’s “Best Practices for Public Notice” guide, which was released the day of the conference. She encouraged publishers to read the guide and challenged them to adopt the practices and encourage others to do the same. “Newspapers still have the greatest reach, and print is still the most reliable platform for public notice,” she said. “But our game could use some work, and these best practices are a good place to start.”

The final panel drilled deeper into the best practices, including promoting readership and providing great customer service. Reporting on the news inherent in public notices and citing the notices in the resulting coverage is a great way to draw reader attention, said Landmark Community Newspapers Editorial Director Benjy Hamm. Wayne Curtis, group publisher of ALM Media, suggested forming close relationships with local sheriffs, probate judges, and clerks of court (“the triumvirate”), and then incorporating customer service metrics for public notice into employee reviews. Teri Saylor, owner of Open Water Communications, addressed the challenges that changing technology poses for maintaining newspaper archives. She also urged listeners to adopt formal third-party archiving agreements.

Ed Henninger gave a practical and entertaining design presentation. See his story on this page.

Motivated by the conference’s success, at its board meeting the following day the PNRC board of directors decided to step up the organization’s production of public notice programming for the newspaper industry. In the future, look for more presentations, conferences and webinars from PNRC, held in conjunction with other newspaper groups.