Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

October 19, 2009

Putting the Paper to Bed

Filed under: Uncategorized — Robert Winters @ 12:40 am

Oct 18 – Putting the Paper to Bed

There seems to be a movement afoot at the state and local level that could have a significant effect on any local newspaper that may still exist in Cambridge. The basics are that a) newspaper circulation is significantly down, b) more people are using Internet resources to get their news, and c) local and state finances are challenged. So, why not change the requirement that legal notices be published in a “paper of general circulation” to a standard more appropriate to the realities of today?

At the state level, the Beacon Hill Roll Call reports:

“ALLOW BIDDING NOTICES TO BE POSTED ON WEBSITES – The State Administration Committee held a hearing on legislation that would allow notices soliciting bids from companies seeking contracts to work on local city, town and county projects to be posted only on the local community’s website or the state website. Current law requires that the notices be published in local newspapers.”

“The Patrick administration says that the change would save the state time and money and ensure that projects move forward faster. Critics say that the change would hurt many newspapers that are already struggling. They argued that this new policy is unfair and decreases openness and transparency because not every business and individual has Internet access.”

To this you can add the following City Council Order for Monday, October 19 from Councillor Toomey:

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor to report back to the City Council with a legal opinion on whether or not listing public notices on the City website could fulfill the obligation of the City to publish legal notices.   Councillor Toomey

O-10     Oct 19, 2009
COUNCILLOR TOOMEY
WHEREAS: The requirement to list legal notices in local newspapers cost the city an estimated $125,000 per year; and
WHEREAS: Newspaper circulation and the industry in general has faltered as a result of increased use of the internet for news and information; and
WHEREAS: Public access to the internet is significantly improving; and
WHEREAS: The City of Cambridge website could be used as an alternative for listing notices in the newspaper; now therefore be it
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the City Solicitor to report back to the City Council with a legal opinion on whether or not listing public notices on the City website could fulfill the obligation of the City to publish legal notices.

It’s been reported many times over that Legal Notices are a sizable and dependable source of revenue for “newspapers of general circulation.” The Cambridge Chronicle, for example, appears to average about one and a half pages per issue of Legal Notices – much of it from the City of Cambridge. The City’s Purchasing Department already posts all of its requests for bids on the City website. There are also some City job listings posted. You can also find Proposed Zoning Amendments Currently Under Review with minimal effort. It seems pretty clear that the City could post all of its Legal Notices and other Public Notices in a clear and inviting way at little or no cost to taxpayers. There are also other civic websites (such as this one) that would gladly link to all of the City’s Legal Notices or post them at no cost, especially if City officials made it as effortless as possible.  —  Robert Winters

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