A bill that would allow local governments and citizens to post legal notices on government websites, as opposed to requiring notices to be published in local newspapers, is making its way through the New Jersey legislature.
The Newark Star-Ledger’s Matt Friedman reports the greatest opposition is coming from the newspaper industry. Losing this legally mandated source of revenue would hit already struggling newspapers hard, and may cripple local community newspapers.
Newspapers argue that people would be required to comb through websites rather than have all notices displayed openly in the newspaper, whether on or offline. They also argue that many older people do not use the Internet for access to information.
Local governments strapped for cash argue that allowing them to post legal notices on their own websites could save millions of dollars. The New Jersey bill’s sponsors say governments would save $70 million a year.
Though it may make more sense to get these legal notices online, no matter where, the line in the debate is of course drawn on political issues. Newspapers are convinced politicians would like less news coverage of themselves. Eliminating more newspapers would be one way to accomplish that.
Politicians, as much as they may like less news coverage of themselves, want jobs over all else. Pushing this bill through is undoubtedly going cost people in the news industry their jobs.
Newspapers have already lost huge classified ad revenue to Craigslist, job & career sites, realtor sites, and auto sites. It’s only a matter of time before they’ll lose the monopoly on legal notices.
It’s not only mainstream newspapers who will suffer. ALM (American Lawyer Media) relies on public and legal notice ads in a number of its papers for revenue.
I bought a ton of legal notices as a practicing lawyer over almost 20 years, whether it be of a foreclosure, service of process by publication, or the seizure of assets. I was then required to file proof of publication with the court.
It seemed like an outdated process even 30 years ago. I don’t ever recall anyone responding because they saw a notice in the newspaper. I skimmed the notices to see the work my competitor law firms were doing. I’m not sure who else read the notices.
It’s only a matter of time that we’ll get beyond the politics here. Some company is going to come along and build for local governments and the public an online infrastructure and processes for the purchasing and placing of the ads.
You can expect newspapers to lose their monopoly on legal ads and a lot of revenue. It may be in the best interest of the newspaper industry to get behind a company that’s going to bring the future via the Internet here, rather than fight the inevitable.