Gov. Deval Patrick is repeating a threat he’s made in the past: to take legal notices out of newspapers and run them online instead, thus saving taxpayers some money.
Hillary Chabot reports in today’s Boston Herald that Patrick has included a provision in his transportation bill that “would allow public transportation projects to advertise on the Internet instead of newspapers.”
From the earliest days of American newspapers, legal notices have been an important source of revenue. During Colonial times, it wasn’t uncommon for newspapers to curry favor with the royal governor in order to get lucrative official advertising.
Has the moment come to rethink legal ads? Probably. But given the horrendous state of the newspaper business, the timing couldn’t be any worse.
What Patrick proposes isn’t unique to Massachusetts. Le Templar of the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz., recently spoke with NPR’s “On the Media” about this very subject. Among other things, he said:
[A] variety of research shows that despite the current plight of the newspaper industry, people are still reading newspapers and their companion websites far more than they’re reading individual government websites. We’re talking at magnitudes of 10 to 100 times more.
Also, newspapers serve as sort of a central repository. If you’re a person who likes to know what different governments are up to around you, you can go to your local newspaper and read them all at once instead to having to go sit in a library all day and look through different minutes or, in the modern electronic era, hit individual websites.
Templar also argued that it’s far easier for the government to prove that it published a legal notice, as required by law, with a newspaper clip than with an online notice on a government site. (Thanks to O-Fish-L for calling my attention to the Herald story.)