Newspapers must post notices on the web

Jun 1, 2022

Public Notice Resource Center

One of the most important steps newspaper publishers can take to ensure newspapers continue to remain the exclusive vehicle for public notice is to expand the audience for those notices by posting them on their own website and on their state press association’s statewide public notice website.

Just ask Nebraska Press Association Executive Director Dennis DeRossett, who says that having a statewide website where members can post their notices — and supporting a law requiring them to do so — helped NPA convince lawmakers to increase the rates paid for those notices.

Nebraska isn’t the only state where the press association has lobbied for a statute requiring its own members to post their notices on the web. Seventeen state press groups have now succeeded in getting such a law passed, and two others continue to press for a new or amended web posting law in 2022.

Think about that for a moment. How often do you hear about trade associations lobbying for legislation that saddles their members with a statutory burden?

It’s rare, but when it happens, it’s because those associations want to get lawmakers’ attention. “We get it” is the message they want to send. In the case of state press groups, the specific message is, “We get that you think our members need to post their notices on the internet, and we agree with you so strongly we’re lobbying for a law that requires them to do that.”

The statewide public notice websites are key because they’re independent, third-party, one-stop solutions for all notices in a particular state. They ensure that people who want to receive a particular category of notices — like contractors who want to see all bid notices — can view them in one place. Or that individuals who want to search for a particular notice always know where they can find it.

But it’s just as important for newspapers to post notices on their own websites. Newspaper websites have more local readers than press association statewide sites. And they usually have far more readers than the websites operated by local government agencies — the same government websites many public officials would like to see replace newspapers as the primary vehicle for public notice.

Government officials who want to move notices from newspapers to government websites often frame the argument as “newspapers vs. the internet.” We lose that argument. The issue should be properly reframed as “newspapers and newspaper websites vs. government websites.” We win that one. But we can’t fully make that case until all newspapers post their notices on their own websites.

Newsprint is still the best medium for the dissemination of public notice. Nevertheless, it is important for all publishers to recognize that newspaper websites and statewide public notice websites are key to reaching the widest audience possible for the notices published in their papers. Newspapers and state press associations have made great progress toward that goal, but efforts must continue to reach full participation — including the passage of mandatory web-posting laws like the one in Nebraska.