To assist the public with easily accessing legal notices nationwide, Newspaper Association Managers (NAM) has created USALegalNotice.com. The website provides direct access to 47 public notice websites from across the country, which are operated by state newspaper associations. Notices include foreclosures, public hearings, financial reports, ordinances and resolutions, among other essential government proceedings.
Beth Bennett is the executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Her staff currently oversees the production of the website.
“Public notices are a very important part of a newspaper’s identity. We are chronicling the history of our communities,” she said. “The industry works very hard to maintain the right to publish all these notices in our states…all of us are always fighting off legislation each year that’s introduced to take away these notices from newspapers.”
More recently, governments have argued that publishing public notices in newspapers was a cost they wanted to remove from their budgets. They also argue that since they have their own websites, they can host this kind of content themselves, so there is no reason to pay to place the notices in newspapers. There is also talk among governments about finding a platform that can be used on a statewide basis; however, the state newspaper associations are already doing it for them at no additional cost.
Bennett also added that the public notice revenue stream is an important stream for the newspaper industry. “The newspaper industry is no different from any other vendor that has a long history of providing a vital service to government.”
As a result, this has been an important topic for NAM members. Following discussions regarding how to promote this public service, the organization decided to create a platform that would connect all the public notice websites into one central location. Visitors just simply select a state to go directly to the public notice website. When USALegalNotice.com officially launched in January, Bennett’s staff asked each state association to provide a link to the website on their landing pages and notify members of the service.
The purpose of the website is twofold, Bennett said. First, it’s important to be able to tell government that they are receiving “two for the price of one” (a print and digital placement). And second, individuals are not going to peruse government websites, so placing notices there would be a static placement; however, publishing in a newspaper would actually push the information out. This is an important message for the media industry to continually promote, she explained.
“The work that the individual states do with their public notice sites is really great and it's important work. There’s a lot of time and effort that’s put into making sure that these sites are out there, and that the public knows that they’re there for them to use,” Bennett said. “The USA Legal Notice site just brings all of those sites together in one place (and) makes it really simple for the user to navigate from state to state.”