Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Web Threat to Legal Ads

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Web Threat to Legal Ads

Article excerpt

COULD THE INTERNET become the 800-pound gorilla that snatches away legal ads from newspapers? Newspapers aren't running for cover yet, but there are indications that many city and county officials would like nothing better than to post their notices on the Internet to avoid paying print ad rates. For many newspapers, particularly small ones, this would mean a significant loss in revenue.

The Utah Press Association, for example, is concerned about a bill moving through the state legislature that would allow public agencies to put legal ads on the Internet as well as in general circulation newspapers. The measure's sponsor, Rep. Brent Goodfellow (D-West Valley City), has said the legislation could be revised to give agencies the option of using a newspaper or the Internet to distribute legal notices, according to UPA executive director Janice Keller.

Moreover, she added, Gov. Mike Leavitt "loves the Internet" and is "sympathetic" to the bill. Leavitt has claimed that 70% of Utahans have access to the Internet. Joel Campbell, UPA's legislative monitor, noted that Salt Lake City's public entities and the Utah Legislature list their meeting agendas and minutes on their Web sites, but continue to advertise them in newspapers.

A statute similar to the one pending in Utah has been introduced in the Indiana Legislature, according to David Stamps, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association.

"The Internet is basically free, and some cities would go that way to avoid having to pay newspapers," he said. "But it would be very harmful economically, especially for small papers. Also, in our opinion, it's not a good policy. For one thing, it's unfair to a lot of people who don't have ready access to the Internet. And even if there are computers in libraries and other public places, I can't see people driving down to the library to read a public notice. There has to be common sense in looking at this."

Stamps said his association is trying to convince the bill's sponsor, Rep. James Davis (R-Frankfort), to change its wording to make the Internet a "supplementary" means of communicating legal notices instead of a replacement, as it now states. Terming the Internet a dubious venue for legal ads, Stamps said of those officials pushing it as a venue for legal notices: "The question in my mind is do they really want to communicate? …

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