An item in Governor Chafee’s proposed budget that would end the requirement that local and state government agencies advertise legal notices in newspapers has drawn conflicting reactions from community and newspaper officials.
So-called Article 22, “Modernization of Legal Notices and Advertisements,” would replace newspaper ads with online notification of certain meetings and other government business.
“We support the concept, always have,” said Daniel Beardsley, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns. “Less publication in The Providence Journal means less expenditure by the cities and towns.”
Legal notices are also published by other Rhode Island newspapers. It is unclear how much local and state governments pay annually to place these ads, which provide a steady revenue stream to newspapers. Many legal notices, however — such as those announcing foreclosures — are required by law but paid by private parties, such as bank clients.
John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, the citizens’ advocacy group, said he opposes eliminating the newspaper requirement.
“According to the Pew Research Center, 15 percent of American adults don’t use the Internet or email at all,” said Marion. “That gap, often called the ‘digital divide,’ has closed over the years, but that seems to be slowing considerably. Those who report not using or having access to use the Internet are more likely to be elderly, poor and less educated. We believe it’s important that access to public notices be as wide as possible, and that means using newspapers and the Internet — not newspapers or the Internet.”
Newport Daily News, South County Independent and North East Independent publisher William F. Lucey agreed that both newspaper and online notices are essential.