Friday, June 26, 2015

Is idea of shifting public notices off newspapers all about keeping secrets?

It is a concept I have heard so many times that I don’t know whom to attribute the idea to – If you want to keep something secret, you ought to just post it somewhere on the Internet.

SANGUINETTI: What else will she do?
Because there’s so much gobbledygook and garbage out there accumulated on assorted website that here’s a good chance no one will ever read your particular notice.

AFTER ALL, THERE’S so much other stuff to occupy the public attention. Probably stuff that’s so much more titillating than the boring, dry information that might have public significance, but just doesn’t compare to that piece about “80’s teen stars and what they look like now” some three decades later.

So excuse me if I don’t think much of the suggestion that Illinois law do away with the requirements that governments be required to publish public notices about upcoming activity in their local newspapers.

These people claim it would be so much more efficient to put notices on their own government websites. They also try to claim that the only people who have objections are the publishers of some of the dinkier newspapers in the state – for whom the revenue they get for publishing such ads can be a significant part of their income.

Which they wrongly try to portray as the state being forced to subsidize the press. A whole lot of hooey, if you ask me.

NOW I’LL BE the first to admit that while I try to read as many newspapers as possible and have been known to read some rather obscure parts of the paper, I rarely pay much attention to those legal notices that get published.

I doubt I’m alone. Requiring that the notices be published in the local papers probably isn’t the most efficient way to spread the word about what actions are upcoming at the local levels of government.

But that’s mostly because of the laziness of the public, many of whom wouldn’t pay close attention to their local happenings if the notices were right on Page One.
Would you rather read a legal notice, or see Demi's bikini shot
Those people, of course, will then complain that it’s the laziness of the press in not keeping them informed about the actions they didn’t known enough to ask about.

WHICH ALSO IS a drawback to finding out information on the Internet. Many people use search functions to try to find relevant copy to the issues that intrigue their curiosity.

But those search functions are so crude in the way they view things. They are ultimate evidence that computers are dumb – only as smart as the people who use them.

I can envision many instances where a government would post something in an obscure portion of their website and no one would ever notice it. Which is probably the real goal of this particular measure that was recommended by Lt Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti’s task force on government consolidation.

That, and perhaps she’s envisioning some sort of payback to the newspaper industry as a whole for all the smart-aleck reporter-types who think she’s a political and intellectual lightweight.

I REALLY THINK it would be too easy for governments to use their websites to hide information in part because of my own experiences as a reporter-type in using government websites to gain some of the bare information they offer now.

Government units like to use their websites to promote the summer festivals or announcements about changes in trash pickup. The idea of using them to let people know when public hearings are to be held or when contracts are up for consideration is something they would rather not bother with.

Heck, I know some governments that claim to post their City Council or Village Board agendas, but are as much as a year behind. Others can’t even be bothered to keep up pretenses. So say what you want about the idea of nobody reading legal notices in the newspaper – at least it’s an outside entity.

Do you really trust your local government to have that much say over telling you what they’re up to?


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