January 21, 2009

Here's some real state help for newspapers... Not.

State Rep. Bill Hamzy, a Plymouth Republican whose 78th District includes a portion of Bristol, is among three sponsors of a measure that would allow towns and cities to cease publishing legal notices in newspapers.
Instead, the proposed law would let them put the legal notices only on the municipality's website if they choose to follow that route.
Putting legal notices on the websites makes perfect sense, of course, but taking them out of newspapers would immediately preclude the sort of general access that papers intrinsically allow. After all, as state Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat, has argued so forcefully lately, many older residents in particular don't have computers and don't go cruising the web.
Putting legal notices on the web only would strip the public of the opportunity to know easily what's going on with their local governments while simultaneously removing yet another part of the shrinking revenue stream that keeps newspapers alive.
I suspect that the many journalists who have complained that newspapers should never get special help from the government will somehow find a way to argue that this is a bad idea that should never be adopted.
That's certainly what I think.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com


Matt from Plymouth said...

I think this is a sensible solution to the problem of ever growing costs of municipal government. The savings may only be in the thousands but it is a measurable start.

As a former member of a land use board the cost of legal postings can become excessive. And as the number of people buying papers decreases and the number of web users increases, the information can be provided to a larger audience at a reduced cost.

Another consideration is towns like Plymouth do not have a local daily paper but are covered by two dailys the BP and Waterbury Rep. About half the town gets the BP the other the WR. So if you get the WR and the legal notices are printed in the BP you don't get the legal notices. Therefore the town website is the logical choice for posting the legal notices. Once the legal notice is on the website why continue to print it?

Does Mr. Nicastro know the number of households that don't have papers delivered? Where is his concern for these people. I for one don't buy a paper, I surf for the news.

Since when is it Bristol's or Plymouth's responsibility to keep the papers solvent?

And no, I'm not Rep. Hamzy's press secretary.

Steve Collins said...

Oh, come on, Matt. Anybody can find the daily paper. But many, many people can't get on the internet.
I agree that putting the legal ads online is a great idea. But it's funny that Hamzy is also pushing legislation that would simultaneously remove requirements for posting municipal information on town websites, which runs directly counter to the whole notion of making it easier for web users to find stuff out about their government.
This is a wrongheaded way to save a few bucks.

Anonymous said...

Just another step towards keeping the public in the dark, making the government process a closed and secret one!

Shame on you Bill!

Not his choice? said...

matt must be self-sufficient in that he feels that this savings is minimal so it won't make a difference? proof positive as to the reason that he is a "former" member of a land use board.

Matt from Plymouth said...

If I can a paper at the store I can go to the library and log on.

And if I like the WR over the BP or vice versa why should I have to purchase the other just to get legal notices.

Look, I was on land use for 10 years and I can't remember one time someone came to a public hearing and said they read about it in the legal notices. However I had dozens of people say they never read a notice in the paper. And printing isn't cheap.

A vast majority of the people don't know where to find the legal notice. I think where they are printed is stupid. If they still need to print them in the paper they should print them in town section, not the classifieds.

As far as removing the requirement I believe this came about because of the requirement that stated towns are required to post minutes or take down their websites. That's why local communities, I believe Harwinton was one, that had to shut down their sites. Town sites are a great source of information. Just because they can't provide all information doesn't mean they shouldn't be allowed to provide some.

In the legislation in questions Mr. Hamzy is stating it should be either or. Either the paper or town website. His elimination of the website requirement doesn't eliminate the posting requirement. Just expands where the posting can be done.

Steve Collins said...

Hey, Matt, libraries are only open sometimes. The paper's always available. And while you -- and me, too! -- have no trouble navigating the 'net, there are lots of people who have no idea how to do it and many who have no desire to learn.
The law shouldn't cut them out.

Anonymous said...

It's a great way for towns to save money. The people who are looking at legal notices (and there are very few of them) are sure to have internet access.

Having minutes of all board and commission meetings published on a town's website is cumbersome. The council and the finance board might be required, but anything more is not needed. People should attend meetings or they can read minutes at the town clerk's office.

Bill is attempting to save money (sorry, but Obama said we all have to pitch in). Matt is absolutely right, and has put in plenty of good years on the land use board. Thank you, Matt, for everything you do for Plymouth.

Sale Pending said...

Did the sale go through?

I don't see anything on your blog and no news on the Bristol Press website.

It's now 4:19p.m.

Is Schroeder signing the papers or not?

Matt from Plymouth said...

I'm a former member because after 10 years of service to my community it was time to move on. As chairman I ran very open meetings and let every member of the public speak during public hearings.

Anonymous - This is not about removing posting requirements but expanding posting choice. As I said if I buy the BP and the town posts in the WR the posting is useless to me. Should we require the town to print in both papers so no one is in the dark? Why not require they print in the Hartford Courant? My neighbor gets the Courant but not the BP or WR. Let's take it to the ridiculous; should the town pay for me to receive the paper so I'm not in the dark?

The website in open to all and is free.

Steve Collins said...

Re the Press sale... I have not heard of the deal being finalized yet. The mayor told me he heard it could be today, Thursday or Friday. We'll see.

Matt from Plymouth said...

Thanks anon.

Steve Collins said...

4:17 -- A great way for the towns to save money? Give me a break.
Shutting off traditional public access to information to save peanuts would be a worse than a mistake. Government needs to increase access to what it's doing, not start closing it off.

Steve Collins said...

I like that idea of the town buying everyone a newspaper or two! ;)

Matt from Plymouth said...

Let discuss access to the legal notice. The posting is only required to be printed twice. I assume because printing it every day for two weeks would be too expensive. Posting on the website would allow the posting to appear for a longer period of time for a greater number of days. Increasing the chances someone has for reading the notice.

Right now if I miss the first notice I have only one other day to catch it. That day would be only a couple of days before the meeting. With a young family I need more than a couple of days to get a sitter so I can attend a meeting. (My kids don't like to go to too many meetings)

If there was only somewhere the town could post such a notice more than twice at little or no cost.(increased frequency = increased opportunity) Maybe for a whole month before the meeting, not just twice. Somewhere anyone with a computer, a number I would speculate is higher than the number that read the paper,that would be something.

From a quick review of our budget $10,000 total but it is fuzzy.

Matt in Plymouth said...

Steve may I ask the circulation number in Plymouth?

Steve Collins said...

1. I don't know the circulation numbers in Plymouth. Whatever it is, I wish it was higher!
2. I wholeheartedly endorse putting legal ads on the towns' websites. It's free and it's a great idea. It should be done so they'd be there every single day.
3. I agree that more people have internet access than newspapers subscriptions. But I'm also sure that the hits on municipal websites are pretty low compared to newspaper readership, which is significantly higher than the subscription numbers since we all know they get passed around in offices, restaurants and beyond.
4. In any case, why strip away one reliable, constant and traditional source for the legal notices? Towns should spend money to inform residents about what they are doing.

Matt from Plymouth said...

What percentage of people that read the paper do you think read the legal notices? Even know where to find the legal notices?

10%? 25%? 5%

Until I was on land use I didn't even know there was such a thing as a legal notice.

Steve Collins said...

All the people who want to read the legal notices do. How many that is, I have no idea.
But I do know that printing them in the paper has worked well for generations. There's no reason to cease doing it.

Sale Pending said...

Sorry to nit pick, Steve, but is the "mayor" a reliable source for this information? :o)

Aren't you the most senior reporter on staff at the Bristol Press? Don't you have access to the potential owners? They have the answers!

Come on! Your future is tied up with this deal.

Dig, Man! Dig!

Enquiring minds want to know....

Matt from Plymouth said...

Because it works today means we should keep doing it not a reason.

Horse and buggy worked for generations, so did oil lamps and outhouses.

Are we better off with their alternatives or should we have stayed with what worked for generations.

Thanks for the soap box.

Steve Collins said...

Sale Pending,
It's not my story to cover. We've basically been told not to spend our time on this story, even though it's the biggest one going. The commentary and stuff I've done has been on my own time here on this blog (and elsewhere, for that matter).
I've been sort of hogtied the whole time by the inability to do much real reporting.

Sale Pending said...

Sorry to hear this critical story is off limits, Steve.

That's gotta hurt. It would be killing me!

Seems a little strange. Don't you think? I mean, you're a big part of this story and could help to sell a lot of papers if properly handled. I'm talking national exposure. Talk about a missed opportunity.

I don't like the sounds of this, at all!

Steve Collins said...

Well, we did a pretty good job of making it a national story anyway, don't you think? ;)
But I think I overstated it. We have been able to write some stories, but it's been much, much more limited than I would have done if it were my decision to make.
At this point, it seems the deal is struck. It's just a formality of singing the right papers. Or at least that's what we're all counting on.

Sale Pending said...

Thanks for the clarification, Steve.

I couldn't help but notice the slip with your typing of the word "singing."

It reminds me of a previous post that talked about the proverbial fat lady singing. Maybe we'll be hearing her after all? Do Re Me Fa So La Ti Do... LOL

Anyway, let's all hope the papers are signed with permanent ink and the fat lady sings 'til she can't sing no more! :o)

Anonymous said...

Thousands of unnecessarily spent dollars is not peanuts. In fact, I think any legislator worth his/her salt should be backing Bill on this. Then get right out there and find more ways to save money. We're hurting and the legislators work for us!

Steve Collins said...

Saving money by increasing the ignorance of the people about their government is penny wise and pound foolish.

I M Dissapointed said...

Guess the Republican Party isn't really the party of the people.

Anonymous said...

The Republican Party is not the party of the newspapers.

Anonymous said...

The Republican party has proven to be a useless bunch of cynics and nothing more. Hamzys idea is typical republican rhetoric to keep the public in the dark. Ho Hum !

Lisa said...

5:36, Hamzy is looking to cut our tax bills. Democrat or Republican, we can all appreciate that.

You may not agree with ending this particular custom, but don't accuse Hamzy (or other politicians) of wanting to cover something up. Unless you know something that we should all know. In that case, tell Steve and I'm sure he will write about it. Otherwise, keep to the issue.

Anonymous said...

Lisa, whether that is his intent or not, only he knows. However, it does reduce the taxpayers awareness as to what is happening in their government and to their money.
Everyone doesn't live by their computer, some people do not have one.
There are bigger fish to fry: this seems a little like misdirection.

Has this been requested by CCM, or a group of muiciplalities?

Odin said...

I normally favor more openness in government, rather than less, but legal notices ain't it. Hamzy is right about this. The only people who ever read legal notices are the people who always read legal notices, and if towns stopped publishing them those people who don't own computers would find the time to go to the library to read them on the town's website. In this case I think the considerable cost savings outweigh the loss of transparency.