Green River Star -

Our view: Legal notices belong in newspapers

 

October 14, 2020



It’s a battle that’s been waged for a long time now and it doesn’t show any signs of letting up.

There’s a movement amongst state legislators to have the legal notices published by municipal and county governments in their local newspapers instead published solely on their governmental websites.

At a time when the state and its city and county governments have been hit hard by a sluggish minerals industry and the impacts of a pandemic, it makes sense to cut costs wherever they can be cut -- at least that’s the surface argument.

There’s something else to address as well: the fact that newspapers, the Green River Star included, count those legal notices as part of their revenue stream. We have a dog in this fight, as the saying goes.

So, this sounds like an open and shut case of newspapers failing to modernize and clinging to an antiquated business model, fighting to keep that revenue stream open, right? Not so. There is a lot to lose if legislators have their way.

Newspapers offer the lowest barrier of entry to a person looking to learn about what their governments are doing. Sure, the argument can be made that it doesn’t cost anything to view a legal notice on a website, but this would also be very wrong. Consider the cost of internet access, of a phone plan and that of a device to view a website with. All together, that’s an entry price easily entering into three figures initially. That doesn’t consider the continual cost of maintaining that access.

There are a lot of people who can afford that, but there’s a large number of people who can’t. As hard as it is for some to accept, a number of people even in Green River fall into this category. Meanwhile, a person needs only to buy a copy of the Green River Star for only $1.50 or subscribe for $42 a year to keep up with what their governments are doing. That’s a lot less expensive than even the most affordable internet or phone plan.

There are also people who don’t have reliable access to the internet because of where they live. Wyoming is one of two federally-designated frontier states in the U.S. -- the other being Alaska. This boils down to two things: not a lot of people and a lot of space between them. While Green River residents can say they have decent internet speeds, the same can’t be said for people living in smaller towns throughout the Cowboy State. Initiatives exist to improve that access to reliable and speedy internet, but the state still trails woefully behind many of its neighbors in this regard.

Can access to legal notices be improved? It certainly can. All a governmental entity has to do is send regular, notarized mailers to every household within its limits containing those notices. At that point, everyone would have access. Yet, the cost of that would easily eclipse the $20,890 the city spent during the 2019-2020 budget year on publishing those notices. In comparison to a similar expenditure, the city spent $16,093.52 in that same time frame on dues to the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, a lobbying group representing municipal governments in Cheyenne.

Taking legal notices out of newspapers would artificially create groups of haves and have-nots when it comes access to their local governments. People, regardless of their income or access to the internet, should have access to that information.

 

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