Critical Thinking: Why Should Governments Continue to Post Public Notices in Newspapers?

by: Nu Yang
Editor & Publisher
Originally published April 16, 2013

Q: What would be your strongest argument for why governments should continue to post public notices in newspapers?

Alison Noon, 20,

Junior, University of Colorado, Boulder
Noon is studying journalism and political science. She is an editor and reporter at CU Independent, CU’s only student news outlet. She is an intern reporter at The Greeley Tribune in northern Colorado, and this summer she will be reporting for The Colorado Springs Gazette.

A: In America, a proactive democracy is more effective than a reactive one. The president’s State of the Union address was originally an annual report to Congress, and although the address has evolved into a public appearance and political opportunity in the decades since, its foundation shows the practicality of communication between branches of government. Open discussion furthers the effectiveness of all areas of democracy (hence the First Amendment).

As an essential fourth estate in the American government, one that speaks directly to the people (as opposed to “of the people,” like Congress), the press is afforded a relationship similar to the one between the three branches. Information is, in effect, worthless after a relevant period of time when discussion can be made to advance the subject. This is why journalists structure their lives around deadlines and report information when it is of use to the public.

Public notices are essential pieces of information. Government should make use of the press’s operation as a fourth estate and subsequent relationship by continuing to post such notices for open discussion in advance of ramifications where they will be of use to citizens: media properties such as newspapers.

Darrell Ehrlick, 37
Editor, Casper (Wy.) Star-Tribune

Ehrlick is editor of the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming’s statewide news source. He has previously worked for newspapers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and North Dakota. He has taught journalism, written two books, and is the recipient of several Lee President’s Awards.

A: Audience. Reach. Delivery.
The conversation about public notices in newspapers often centers on more esoteric, abstract concepts such as good government and transparency; noble sentiments, but not ones easily sold to overworked government officials looking to cut costs. The best argument isn’t an appeal to altruism. It’s that newspapers — true multimedia companies — have a better reach and audience than they’ve ever had. And, it’s still growing.

No longer is circulation the one-and-only indicator of audience and reach. Through our websites, social media, and, of course, print, we have an audience that has grown exponentially. How many other media can boast that in the days of satellite radio and digital video recording? It’s not just that we have more audience; it’s that we can reach out to them on so many platforms and in different ways. No longer is our reach static.

We deliver content and engage our audience in whatever way they’re most comfortable. They respond and interact in growing numbers. Readers are truly invested in our content, including public notices. We also have the most sophisticated delivery systems available. Whether job postings, bids, or meeting notices, we work with government to reach those interested. We target the audience. Lectures about good government and transparency are rarely persuasive enough when officials face tough budget decisions. That’s why we must communicate in exactly those terms: No other media offers a greater audience, a wider reach, and better delivery at such an economical rate. Of course, more people also means more transparency and better informed citizens.