A bill making its way through the North Carolina Senate would remove public notices from newspapers serving Onslow County and Robeson County — including this newspaper, The Robesonian.
A vote on this bill is scheduled for Tuesday.
Many, many newspaper readers rely on their community papers to provide fair, accurate and useful news, including public notices placed in newspapers by the government, businesses and individuals.
This bill, “SB200: Onslow and Robeson Counties/Public Notices,” sponsored by Sen. Michael A Lazzara, R-Dist. 6 (Onslow County), is a targeted attack on your community newspaper.
SB200 is bad for residents in Robeson County, who rely on public notices and other legal advertising to inform them about government entities and courts. That includes information pertaining to notice of meetings, proceedings or minutes of meetings, elections, annexations, budgets, property taxes and hearings, delinquent payments, hearings, ordinances, foreclosures and many other vital official matters of government entities; for courts, examples of required public notices include filings of estates, law suits, dissolutions, custody, assumed names, foreclosures, and many others, according to the North Carolina Press Association.
In other words, public notices are an easy way for residents to see what their elected officials are doing. It’s also a vital part of the Robesonian’s watchdog efforts on behalf of you, our readers.
The argument for removing public notices from newspapers is that they can be centralized on local government websites that can be accessed by anyone with access to the internet.
Here’s the thing; no, here are a few things:
First, here in Robeson County, public notices are already available electronically at Robesonian.com, which has a growing number of users in part because of our service to the community with ultra-local news, sports and advertising. Last month, Robesonian.com had 196,000 unique visitors and 443,000 page views.
Combined with the Robesonian’s print edition, public notices and legal advertising already reaches readers throughout the county. This website is free to the public and the “Legals” are available to anyone at all times.
The reach of the Robesonian’s website and print edition far surpasses the county website giving readers access to legal advertising quickly for free with the click of a button or picking up a newspaper from a rack.
Additionally, the invention of another website will not solve the issue of large swaths of our county that include residents who have no access to high speed internet or aren’t computer savvy. That makes the Robesonian’s print edition a valued source of information throughout the county.
SB200 would allow government agencies to post public notices and legal notices on “county-maintained websites.”
This places responsibility for publishing public notices in the hands of the agency requiring the notices. That’s right, it removes public oversight of the notice by those with any interest in the required public notice.
As a longtime business here in Robeson County, and as a news organization that prides itself on fair and accurate news coverage, we urge residents to contact their state legislators and urge them to vote against this attack on community newspapers and newspaper readers.
You can reach the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lazzara at 919-715-3034 or Michael.Lazzara@ncleg.gov.
You can also reach our locally elected senator, Sen. Danny Britt — a local business owner himself — at 919-733-5651 or Danny.Britt@ncleg.gov.
We can find no good reason to support this proposed legislation and we urge the North Carolina Senate to vote against this attack on community newspapers.