Saving money vs. right to know
What follows are some important statistics you will probably find boring and irrelevant to your life. We don't blame you. But we'd like to suggest that you study them for a moment, because they do matter:
Eighty-six percent of adults read a newspaper every week.
Seventy-five percent of those readers read most or all of their paper.
On average, readers spend 45 minutes reading an issue of their paper.
More than one-third of readers keep their paper for more than six days, enabling them to read it at their leisure.
Those statistics are courtesy of a 2008 National Newspaper Association survey. By contrast, according to a 2008 Pew Internet and American Life Project Survey, 52 percent of Americans have never visited a single state, local or federal government web site, and only 9 percent of the population visits a government website on a daily basis.
These statistics were assembled by the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA) in response to a campaign to repeal a statewide requirement that cities post public notices in newspapers of general circulation. A proposed change, being discused by the League of California Cities, would allow city clerks the option of publishing such notices solely on their citys' official websites, and mailing a notice of new ordinances to citizens who have requested it in writing.
Perhaps you can now see where this is leading, and at this point we must make full disclosure. The Sonoma Index-Tribune, like most newspapers of general circulation, earns a modest amount of revenue from legal advertising. If the campaign for electronic noticing succeeds, we will lose some of that revenue.
Take that for what it's worth, but you should also understand that, along with the CNPA and the vast majority of newspapers in California, we think relying on electronic noticing is a very bad idea because it would seriously compromise the public's right to know.
New laws and municipal notices contain important information that can impact citizen's lives. If they don't know about those laws they can't respond to them and their voices are effectively stifled.
We will readily admit that legal notices are not the best read content in this newspaper. But we would ask readers when was the last time they searched the City of Sonoma website for information on new laws and regulations? And how many of our readers would take the time to request receiving official notice by the city?
The impetus behind this campaign is reasonable; it is about saving cities the cost of placing public notices in newspapers. But we believe the effect would be unreasonable because it would create a de facto restriction on the flow of public information.
We address this now because on Wednesday, the City Council will make a decision on how to respond to a resolution to approve online noticing under consideration by the League of California Cities at their Annual Conference in San Francisco on Sept. 21. Mayor Laurie Gallian will represent Sonoma at the conference and we strongly advise her not to support the resolution. We think it would not be in the public interest.