Amidst a flurry of legislative efforts being submitted in the home stretch of the general assembly’s session is one bill that simultaneously threatens the vitality of local newspapers, such as …
Amidst a flurry of legislative efforts being submitted in the home stretch of the general assembly’s session is one bill that simultaneously threatens the vitality of local newspapers, such as this one, as well as the ability for local residents to inform themselves about the important goings-on within the places they call home.
Senate Bill S1008 would seek to make the Rhode Island Secretary of State website as the primary home for legal notices, which are posted for everything from local liquor license hearings to proposed changes to your municipality’s laws.
We join in the chorus of opposition to this bill, which includes other newspaper publishing groups and regular citizens who seek to remain abreast of their governments’ activities.
One reason to oppose this measure is, admittedly, an act of self preservation. It is no secret that local newspapers have experienced immense financial difficulties since the turn of the millennia. Dedicated, locally-owned newspaper companies (the product of which you are reading right now) have become rarer and rarer as financial realities have necessitated layoffs, or the entire sale of operations to conglomerate companies that don’t truly value the communities which they serve.
It cannot be ignored that culling legal advertising revenue from newspapers would serve as another devastating blow to local newspaper groups, but this is not the lone reason to oppose this legislation.
Legal ads aren’t the sexiest aspect of a newspaper, but they are a fundamentally critical part of them. They serve to alert citizens of important meetings happening in town, and provide transparency into what their local boards and public officials are doing. Outside of serving as a convenient place to find this information, papers serve as an archival record to ensure that proper public notice has occurred, and that the governmental process is accessible to everyone.
It is immensely helpful and logical to have a “one stop shop” for a community to read about the latest news, see photos of their community in action, and inform them of critical governmental operations, all within the same place — without forcing them to go out on their own and search for information they might not even be aware they should be searching for. Indeed, many people first find out about scheduled meetings discussing topics important to them when they’re flipping through the pages of their local paper.
The assumption that “everything is online now, so people can find legal notices online, too” is a drastic and ill-informed one, which also does not account for the significant number of people — particularly senior citizens and those of lower income who can’t access broadband internet or have an internet-connected device — that would be left out of the democratic process as a result of this proposed change.
We implore residents and loyal readers of our newspapers to contact their local representatives in the House of Representative and the Rhode Island Senate to oppose S1008, and oppose any similar legislation that may appear in the House.