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Public notices on the internet: It just doesn’t work

Public notices in newspapers provide accountability

February 16, 2010
Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald
Editor’s Note: The Tama County Board of Supervisors voted 2-0 with 2nd District Supervisor Kendall Jordan absent to discontinue carrying county public notices in The Toledo Chronicle on Jan. 11. As a result, readers of either of the two newspapers (Chronicle or Northern-Sun Print, Gladbrook-Lincoln-Garwin)serving the 2nd supervisor’s district see county public notices in their newspapers.

Here is a position paper from the Iowa Newspaper Association:

Public notices in newspapers provide accountability

Iowa newspapers and the public notices in them are well-read despite what others may have told you about “the death of newspapers”.

A 2009 statewide readership survey conducted by Newton Marketing and Research of Norman, Okla.*, concluded that over 87 percent of Iowans read their local newspaper. Some 71 percent of Iowans believe public notices should be published in newspapers. This study showed that readership of these notices is better than that of professional sports news.

Public notices are not

well-read on the Internet

The Iowa Newspaper Association spends tens of thousands of dollars a year putting all public notices published in the state on a single, searchableInternet website- If you Google ”Iowa public notices”, the search engine will show you that the most popular site for this information is the INA’s site which was created by newspapers to add value to public notices at no extra cost to local governments.

Even though this website is the most popular Iowa public notice website on the web, few Iowans take the time to look for public notices there (or anyplace else on the Internet). According to Google Analytics, from Nov. 1, 2008, to Oct. 31, 2009, the number of “absolute unique visitors” (different people) who went to the site was 20,000. That pales in comparison to the number of different Iowans who read public notices in newspapers in 2009.

The total circulation of Iowa newspapers is 1,284,869. Total readership is 2,569,738. The 2009 Newton research shows that 55.5 percent of those readers, or 1,426,204 Iowans, read public notices usually or sometimes. That means the ratio of readership of public notices in newspapers compared to the most robust public notice website is 71 to 1.

Over 32 percent of Iowans said they would “not at all be likely” to read the notices on the Internet. In fact, over half of Iowans (57.4 percent) say they have never gone to any local government website for any kind of information.

Why newspaper readership of notices dwarfs Internet readership

It’s unlikely that many newspaper subscribers decide to subscribe to their local newspaper just for the public notices. It’s even more unlikely that Iowans would think about going to the Internet just to find their local notices. But newspapers regularly “push” the information contained in public notices to the vast majority of Iowans who come upon them as they read the local content they have paid the newspaper to receive. In order to read notices on the Internet, Iowans would have to remember to “pull” this information from the Internet on a regular basis. It would be unwise to base public policy on the expectation that citizens would remember to “pull” this critical information on a regular basis when they now have it conveniently “pushed” to them in their local newspaper. And don’t buy the claim that the public will view the notices on the Internet at their public libraries or from local government sources. The survey showed that 89.8 percent of Iowans never go to their local libraries to use the library’s computer system.

*Survey conducted in November, 2009. Margin of error: +/- 4.5% at the 95% confidence level.


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