Another reason why notices belong in print

AN ANONYMOUS HACKER MADE yet another cogent argument for keeping public notices in newspapers and not online.

The unknown hacker got into the village of Elkhart Lake’s webpage, taking it down completely and leaving the village without a webpage for several weeks while it is reconstructed.

For many years, proposals have been made in Wisconsin and many other states to rescind the requirement that public notices be published in newspapers, where they can be accessed by the general public.

The argument proponents make is that governmental units can save money by publishing legal notices on a designated website only, rather than paying to have them published in newspapers – as they have been for decades.

That would mean that notices of meetings and public hearings, advertisements for bids on public contracts, minutes of certain meetings and much, much more would no longer be published for access by the general public, but would instead only be available on a website chosen – and controlled – by local governments and school districts.

But, as what happened in Elkhart Lake demonstrates, that would not necessarily be a secure method.

Fortunately for the village, they had no notices of public hearings, solicitations for bids for public contracts or other vital information on their webpage that was lost when it was hacked. But what if they had?

What if, for instance, there were notices on a government website that is hacked or crashes that are of a timely nature? Would contracts have to be canceled or delayed? Would notice of changes to local laws or ordinances go into effect without anyone being aware of it? All of this and more is possible if public notices are only published online.

Add that to the argument that publication and dissemination of public notices should not be under the control of those making those notices, but should instead remain in a public forum under independent control.

Add that to the argument that not everyone has access to the internet or local government websites – especially in many rural areas of the state - but everyone has access to their local newspaper, either by subscription or purchase of single copies, or even at the local public library.

Governments already publish their notices in newspapers at a greatly-discounted rate and in a much more compact format and size than other advertising and editorial content – just check the six-pages plus of county tax foreclosure notices The Review published the last three weeks, in a much smaller type size and more compact format than what was found in the rest of the newspaper.

The issue for newspapers is revenue, but far, far greater for newspapers and more importantly for the public as a whole is the entire issue of easy access to information the public has every right – and need – to access.

After all, no newspaper has ever crashed, been hacked, broken into or shut down by some anonymous party.

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