Building Public Notice for the Next Generation

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Publishing public notices has been and continues to be a traditional responsibility and a revenue stream for local newspapers. Most public notices are of three primary types: information about the work of government at all levels to inform the citizenry and allow them to comment on that work; announcements of bids from the government so businesses can respond to those opportunities; and court notices, relating to wills, unclaimed properties, and foreclosures, for example.

As legacy newspapers, especially at the local level, continue to transition their publications to a digital operation, public notices, like classified ads and obituaries, and the process of publishing them must also evolve.

Mike Blinder, publisher of Editor & Publisher Magazine, and four panelists addressed the challenges to public notices during a May 26, 2021 “E&P REPORTS” Webinar sponsored by Column.

As a fifth-generation member of his family's Midwest and Mountain states newspaper group, Jake Seaton, founder and CEO of Column, has applied his experience there with his computer education from Harvard to develop Column. It has quickly become an innovative and successful self-serve system to streamline the public notice process and maximize revenues for newspapers.

"After observing how my family's newspapers processed public notices and the excessive time and money required when using analog systems, I was inspired to start Column to help make the process easier," said Seaton. "Considering the diversity of laws and regulations governing public notices in different states and even some municipality, the newspaper industry and those required to post public notices needed a better system."

Francis Wick, CEO of Wick Communications, which publishes local newspapers in mainly Western states, explained that many local publishers are still fearful of the changes to digital technology, such as Column. He cited the example of his Montrose (Colo.) Daily Press, where there was considerable apprehension among local government agencies, law firms and others when Column was introduced.

"Despite the initial pushback about using Column, which was understandable, approximately 90% of all public notices published in the Daily Press come through Column. The county treasurer was ecstatic because the department was able to create notices itself," said Wick. "Column has been absolutely necessary for our publications to compete in the digital world, and it required weeks instead of a year to integrate it with Vision Data, our legacy system."

Upon entering the conversation, Cameron Nutting-Williams, CRO at Ogden Newspapers, which publishes community newspapers in sixteen states, said adding Column has allowed the company to focus on its mission of improving information transparency to the community instead of being more concerned with operational processes.

"We decided to launch a few pilot programs with Column and discovered many of our public-notice customers were open to the change to a digital system," said Nutting-Williams. "They had previous experience with other self-serve platforms, either professionally and personally, and quickly understood the value of Column, especially the time savings."

Stefani Beard, legals classified manager at McClatchy, brought a major publisher's perspective with public notices and Column to the Webinar. With dailies and weeklies in twenty-eight different markets (and in states and municipalities with different public notice laws and regulations), Beard was pleased with how Column and Seaton helped to communicate with local papers about the additional revenues using Column could generate.

"Jake's understanding of the customer service aspect of the public notice process is the most important benefit of our relationship," said Beard. "With McClatchy publications processing and publishing 100 to 200 public notices per day across all our markets, the technological innovation of Column was critical. Focusing on building relationships with government officials, law firms, and others who post public notices is an even more important part of maximizing public-notice revenues."

Seaton added newspapers can add templates to Column that comply with local and state requirements relating to public notices, so it is less likely customers will enter incorrect data. Plus, the Column dashboard allows both users and publishers to track the process of a submitted public notice, improving the speed of the process and reducing errors.

Seaton then shared a major announcement: the California News Publishers Association had joined Column's partner program as one of 10 state associations in the program. The program is a separate service to help these associations, as the voices of all statewide publications, to engage with state legislators and local officials to develop laws and regulations that reinforce the importance of public notices being published in local newspapers, as they always have.

Read more about Column's partnership with CNPA

"As local publications transition to more digital processes and require less staff, it's difficult for them to interact with the legislators and local officials who craft public notice laws," said Seaton. "Addressing the concerns of local publications to state legislators is typically a primary mission of state newspaper associations. Our partner program helps them to enhance and strengthen their advocacy so local newspapers can continue to serve their communities and generate the revenues to thrive."

About Column
Column is a public benefit startup founded by Jake Seaton, the fifth generation of local media family based out of Manhattan, Kansas. The company provides media businesses with a collaborative public notice software platform to streamline operations and deliver a modern customer experience to local governments, legal services, and businesses required to place public notices. Since Column’s launch in September 2020, the company has signed on a roster of publishing partners including The McClatchy Company, Ogden Newspapers, Wick Communications, The Washington Post, and more. To learn more about Column’s work visit www.column.us.

Contact
Kevin King, Head of Partnerships at Column

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