Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
The Media Government News

Public Notices Going Online, Not In Newspapers 75

An anonymous reader tips a story up on Bnet.com about the growing trend for governments and others to eschew newspapers and post notices of public record on their own Web sites. It's under discussion at local, state, and national government levels, including in the SEC and the states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, so far. "If classified ads were a backbone of the newspaper business, then the very center of the spine was the public notice. Mandated by laws and courts, these often long recitations of detail were to give official notification, to any who were interested, of the legal intents and actions of both government entities and companies that found themselves under some appropriate regulation. But a growing number of state and local governments want to move public notices online to their own sites as a cost-cutting measure. Beyond newspaper economics, critics are concerned that the shift would allow government officials to effectively hide their activities from scrutiny."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Public Notices Going Online, Not In Newspapers

Comments Filter:
  • Beyond newspaper economics, critics are concerned that the shift would allow government officials to effectively hide their activities from scrutiny.

    Well lets be honest there was no better place to hide news than in local newspapers, they were intended to wrap up chips (US: fries) not for reading . . .

  • by ctmurray ( 1475885 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:07PM (#28088701) Journal
    I think if the local paper was/is widely distributed this old method might be read more widely (people without internet access, or not visiting city/state web sites often). These can be stored in libraries and seen casually around town. But our local paper of record just closed its doors, not sure where these notices will be printed now.

    If you are looking for something specific (say you want to bid on a contract which might be announced using these methods) probably an internet site where you can search is best. But for the function of a watchdog or check on govt. both can hide information, with the paper printing less likely (it has to hid in plain site in small print).
    • There was a problem when I was growing up with the "local" newspaper and public notices. They had to hit a certain number of subscribers in order to count as having put out a public notice, so they gave away their newspaper to the people that lived furthest away, others closer to town paid about $0.35. It was comprised of about 70% public notices. The whole purpose of the paper was for companies to have a small paper that no one reads that meets the requirements for public notice so they can build on protected lands and other such things.

    • by Machtyn ( 759119 )
      I can't think of a better way than to hide a public notice than in the local newspaper. In the past, when everyone got the newspaper, they actually read it all the way through. There wasn't much else to do. Since more people are getting their news online, it makes sense to move the notices online as well. I don't think they should be gotten rid of in the newspaper, there are plenty of people (poor or older) who don't have Internet access.

      When I did subscribe, I couldn't even tell you where the public n
      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        I can't think of a better way than to hide a public notice than in the local newspaper. In the past, when everyone got the newspaper, they actually read it all the way through. There wasn't much else to do. Since more people are getting their news online, it makes sense to move the notices online as well. I don't think they should be gotten rid of in the newspaper, there are plenty of people (poor or older) who don't have Internet access.

        Well, in a real newspaper (not one of those "public notice" papers th

  • "Hide"? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:09PM (#28088719) Homepage

    Sounds like a remarkably ineffective way to hide anything. Google "public notice"+site:.gov . Should be rather simple to set up publicnotices.org (or .com) if you are worried that such notice will be "hidden".

    Publishing in the Pierce County Herald, on the other hand...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by iluvcapra ( 782887 )

      Should be rather simple to set up publicnotices.org (or .com) if you are worried that such notice will be "hidden"

      Until the government entity takes down the notice the next day, or rewords it and claims that it was always the reworded way.

      A 3rd-party aggregator could defeat this problem by watching the government sites and capturing all the notices, but you won't know if the aggregator has good information... A way you could know a government disclosure was accurate is if a government entity published public keys and signed all of its disclosures. But this already seems too complicated for the average news reporter, l

    • by Senjutsu ( 614542 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:47PM (#28089039)
      Who reads newspapers?

      Old People

      What group is most likely to bother to read some long boring public notice and have enough free time and spare outrage to make any noise about it?

      Old People

      Where do you put things you don't want Old People to find?

      The Internet
      • So you intend to give up the Net and take up reading public notices in newspapers when you get old? BTW how do you define old?

      • Sigh. Old or young who has time to figure out what is going on? That's what we rely on officials for.

        If they're not reliable, then don't pay taxes

      • We get three papers a day and one weekly. Two big cities nearby and the papers give different information and slants. One paper is a smaller city nearby and the weekly was the one that went under and had the notices for the city I live in. We read them in the morning and I take to work to have something to read during lunch. But then I am on the internet at night. My wife reads the locals to see what is up in the community - she is quite politically active. But we also just turned 50 - so on the cusp of bei
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by blackest_k ( 761565 )

      Quotes from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
      Written by Douglas Adams
      "BEWARE THE LEOPARD"

      "But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months."

      "Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn't exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything."

      "But the plans were on display ..."

      "On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."

      "That

    • by orev ( 71566 )

      You've fundamentally missed the point. It's not about public vs. private, it's about placing the notice in a place that general citizens would have a reasonable chance of running across it in daily life. Unless your (and everyone's) daily web surfing involves checking government web sites every day, you're not going to see these notices. Even if *your* habits might bring you across it, 99.9% of other people won't. The point of having it in the newspaper is that most people (in the past) would be reading

  • by Kligat ( 1244968 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:10PM (#28088733)

    Firefox has an extension called Scrapbook [mozilla.org] that allows you to save to your cache entire copies of a webpage without saving screenshots to your hard drive. Your browser automatically downloads all pages from a website within a link depth that you set, and you can direct the process to be restricted to one domain.

    I spidered www.whitehouse.gov on January 20 and January 21, 2009 to a link depth of 3. I wish I remembered to do the same thing with Blagojevich's webpages before they were changed.

    • by Kligat ( 1244968 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:16PM (#28088791)
      To clarify, this works best on pages that Internet Archive would miss--pages that use robot.txt, or that update enough for Internet Archive to miss between scans. I don't know of any feature that highlights changes between versions, but if you have both versions scrolled down at the same point, your eye should catch a difference in spacing that will lead you to the right place.
      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        Hmm, interesting but I bet you can edit those downloaded pages to make them look like whatever you wanted them to look like, so no one will really accept them either. What is needed is a specific agency which will record and display all public notices, perhaps even with an archived hardcopy, some thing like www.publicnotices.gov.* Something that was fully search able and, with email subscriptions for personally relevant notifications.

        Putting it up on local website doesn't really count as publishing it, a

    • by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:36PM (#28088939)
      wget(1) [gnu.org] also does this if you want to build a daily script.
  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:12PM (#28088741) Homepage
    The concern here seems reasonable. Local government websites are some of the most poorly designed and hardest to navigate. I could easily see this resulting in problems not out out of malice but out of simple incompetence. Presumably regulations and guidelines should be drafted for how governments should do this. The most obvious thing is that there must be actual incoming links not hidden by either nofollow tags or anything in the robots.txt file to prevent search engine indexing. Also, there needs to be guaranteed backups and permanent searchable archives (which will in some ways make this more transparent than tiny, non-searchable notices in local newspapers). There are probably other simple rules that would be needed but those are the ones that come to mind most immediately.
    • by snsh ( 968808 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @07:13PM (#28089297)

      I manage a local government .GOV website, and am probably part of the problem. Our main publication path for hearing/meeting notices is a Trumba webcalendar. They also get emailed to neighborhoods, but those lists don't have too many subscribers. Sometimes we get last-minute changes or cancellations, and we lack a tool to formally track those changes.

      Worse, it's the government clerks and lawyers who actually author the meeting notices. And they will always tend to post the bare-minimum that they have to. They will post something short like "zoning board meeting. agenda: variance for 10 Elm Street" and leave out the part about how the zoning variance is for building a nuclear reactor at 10 Elm Street. They are not interested in transparency, but in disclosing only what they have to. If they advertise more, they are inviting trouble from pesky constituents against the government leaders who called for the hearing, so they don't do that.

      We only recently started posting details/documents along with the meeting notices for our legislative body. One problem is that we had to develop both an internal app and webapp to organize and manage those documents. We have staff to develop that, but I'm not sure how a really small government (like a town with 5000 people) would cope. It would be nice if state government developed tools that local governments could use, but I doubt that's going to happen

      I think the solution for smaller local/county governments will have to come from state and federal governments to develop tools for smaller governments to use. I'm not aware of any killer FOSS applications for tracking legislative issues, hearings, meetings, and such. The software tool just does not there.

      • by Swizec ( 978239 )
        What about any decent issue tracking system? Sounds pretty much like it would solve exactly the problem you're having.

        At worst you'd have to use a plugin or spend a day configuring stuff to get all the fields and thingies you need ... trac seems like a good place to start.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by bit01 ( 644603 )

        The software tool just does not there.

        What's wrong with a wiki? A newspaper is simply a general tool for publishing text and images. A wiki is the same except you could publish faster, cheaper and more voluminously.

        As a bonus you could use a wiki with access and revision control.

        You have no reason to use a specialized application or do a "big bang" change. In fact lots of reasons not to.

        ---

        Astroturfers and sock puppets are liars and companies have no right of anonymity. Please have the common decency to

      • Well, its time for you to email Obama, the first "Internet President" to ask him for help.

        I think that for less money that he is willing to spend on the white house internet presence, a Open Source Software Suite for Small Government could be funded.

        In this time of economic crisis, there are certainly a few bright souls that would quite their unsafe and boring jobs and take government grants to start a business to develop such software and then make money supporting it.

      • Since you've developed the apps needed, couldn't you provide them to other local governments?
      • In England, public notices generally have to be published at http://www.london-gazette.gov.uk/ [london-gazette.gov.uk] . In Scotland, they appear on http://www.edinburgh-gazette.gov.uk/ [edinburgh-gazette.gov.uk] and in Northern Ireland, on http://www.belfast-gazette.co.uk/ [belfast-gazette.co.uk] .

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Back in the 60s (70s?) My grandparents had the government dig them a lake and stock it with fish so they could use it for their drinking water. The stipulation: advertise the fact the lake was there and stocked with fish. Their solution: Advertise in the chicago tribune. They had a small farm about 25 miles southeast of st louis. Like anybody seeing that ad would drive all the way down there for a small lake and fishing. Sounds like something similar.

    • Local government websites are some of the most poorly designed and hardest to navigate.

      I second you on that!

      Take for instance the home page for Tuttle, Oklahoma: http://mirror.centos.org/mirrorscripts/noindex_new.html [centos.org]

      That single page is so bloody cluttered and difficult to navigate that the Oklahoma City Manager (who is an very important pesron!) had difficulty with it. See http://www.centos.org/modules/news/article.php?storyid=127 [centos.org]

  • Interesting (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:14PM (#28088769) Homepage

    Today when you register a corporation you are required to post this fact in one or more newspapers or other similar publications. Often these notices are rather expensive to post as they are not simply standard classified ads.

    Similarly, there are requirements for stock offerings and such. As well as government contract opportunities.

    Sure, nobody reads newspapers anymore but at least they are saved in the public library for just about all time. You want to find something? There is a place to look. And, for the most part, this historical record is a trustworthy one.

    Who, exactly, is archiving government web site content like this? Nobody, that's who. We are hell-bent on destroying any possibility of records for the future, and I have no idea why we are so firmly set on this as a goal. Easier? Sure it is. More relevent? Maybe. But there is no way that most of the digital information today is being archived in a meaningful manner, and what there is that is being archived has a very, very low signal to noise ratio, or perhaps more accurately for the Internet, a rather high noise to signal ratio.

    Certainly the US is so firmly focused on entertainment today that newspapers and meaningful news doesn't stand a chance. It isn't entertaining and attempts to make news entertaining are usually grotesque paradies of reality.

    • Re:Interesting (Score:4, Insightful)

      by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:35PM (#28088929) Homepage

      > Who, exactly, is archiving government web site content like this? Nobody, that's who.

      Well, what are you waiting for? You think it needs doing: do it.

    • "Sure, nobody reads newspapers anymore but at least they are saved in the public library for just about all time. "

      Only a geek would say that. A lot of people still read the newspaper, either their own or the libraries copy. If anything's to be hidden it's from those who don't have internet access.

    • Re:Interesting (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:47PM (#28089029) Homepage

      Today when you register a corporation you are required to post this fact in one or more newspapers or other similar publications. Often these notices are rather expensive to post as they are not simply standard classified ads.

      Similarly, there are requirements for stock offerings and such. As well as government contract opportunities.

      Sure, nobody reads newspapers anymore but at least they are saved in the public library for just about all time.

      Actually, the notice requirement varies by locality. I've registered DBA's and have worked with others registering corporations in Los Angeles County. There are actually publications whose sole reason for existing is to publish such legally mandated announcements, and I have yet to see one anywhere. The last one I used (three weekly pubs for my most recent DBA) was done by filling out a web form online and paying forty bucks by credit card. My proof of publication was three dated photocopied sheets of a crude looking advertisement and a receipt from the publisher. It's nothing you'd ever find in a library, that's for sure. I have no freakin' clue where this little rag was publicly available, but the county recorder accepted it. It's all a sham, now. A vestigial organ long since outlived its purpose. I say get rid of it.

      • I got curious and looked up examples: Here [30dollardba.com]'s one fictitious business publisher for $30. They publish in the British Weekly, a small Los Angeles paper publishing news from Britain. Probably you can find it at any one of the forty British pubs in all of Los Angeles county. Probably you won't find it at any of the LA County libraries.
    • While I agree to a point, unless you are going to take most of the local papers and make them government run subsidies the simple fact is papers are going the way of the 8-track. Nobody reads the things anymore, and with good reason. if your town is big enough to have a local paper, it is big enough to have corruption in office. I want to know which wildcat natural gas bunch is paying off the county to get away with their nasty way of drilling. I want to know who gave a check to the judge that pulled an imm

    • by sribe ( 304414 )

      Today when you register a corporation you are required to post this fact in one or more newspapers or other similar publications.

      Not in all states, Colorado for instance...

  • Would the notices be "published" in some archivable form? Or would they be subject to continual revision and modification?

  • by SirLurksAlot ( 1169039 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:37PM (#28088951)

    I mean how would you like it if you were caught in a situation where you didn't have access to public information? ;-)

    VOGON CAPTAIN: [On Speakers] People of Earth your attention please. This is Prostectic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace Planet Council. As you no doubt will be aware, the plans for the development of the outlying regions of the western spiral arm of the galaxy require the building of a hyperspace express route through your star system and, regrettably, your planet is one of those scheduled for demolition. The process will take slightly less than two of your Earth minutes thank you very much.

    MANKIND: [Yells of protest]

    VOGON CAPTAIN: There's no point in acting all surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display at your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years so you've had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaints and its far too late to start making a fuss about it now.

    MANKIND: [Louder yells of protest]

    VOGON CAPTAIN: What do you mean you've never been to Alpha Centauri? Oh for heaven sake mankind it's only four light years away you know! I'm sorry but if you can't be bothered to take an interest in local affairs that's your own regard. Energise the demolition beams! God I don't know...apathetic bloody planet, I've no sympathy at all...

    The Earth is destroyed in a huge explosion.

  • Just watch, before long they'll be posting public notices by leaving them in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'.

  • by Pluvius ( 734915 ) <pluvius3.gmail@com> on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:40PM (#28088979) Journal

    For example, how the Vogons managed to get away with hiding that demolition notice in some planning department out in Bum Fuck, Alpha Centauri.

    Rob

    • hiding that demolition notice in some planning department out in Bum Fuck, Alpha Centauri.

      In a locked cabinet in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying "Beware of the leopard!", mind you.

  • Outside repository (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Todd Knarr ( 15451 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:52PM (#28089079) Homepage

    This shouldn't be allowed. Public notices in newspapers serve two purposes. The first is the one mentioned, publishing the notice where interested parties can see it. The second isn't mentioned, though, and that's to create a record of the notice outside the control of the party required to post it. The notice can't be changed later, can't be quietly made to never have happened. We've already seen entities change stories posted on their Web sites when what was in those stories became inconvenient later. Yes, it's going to cost a little extra to maintain that independent record of the notices. When we make a big payment or an important one where not making it has big consequences, it definitely costs for them to give us a receipt that we can use later to prove we did pay and what we paid for. We don't accept the cost savings as a valid reason for not being given a receipt, we don't accept "Trust us, we've got a record of your payment.".

    • How about an arrangement by which public notices would be stored in the Internet Archive? Small fees for this would help to support it.

    • Except those receipts fade after a year... faster if not taken care of, or left in a wallet.
  • I could see a central County website/repository for public notices... but individual websites? That defeats the whole purpose of a "public" notice!
  • by illumnatLA ( 820383 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @07:48PM (#28089585) Homepage
    When the broadband internet is treated like a utility and everyone, including deep rural dwellers has relatively easy access to it then government can take post their 'public' notices online.

    As it stands right now a good percentage of the population still do not have reasonable access to the internet or are not tech savvy enough to own a computer (i.e. many of the elderly). They should not be punished for their lack of internet access by removing public government notices from newspapers which are still easily accessible by anyone.
  • First off, notice in printed media will probably never disappear completely. Online notices over time will simply be added to the required list of places to post. Along with the additional requirement, state-based legislation will likely address issues such as data retention and external review.
  • Vogon ships have been sited heading towards Earth.

  • publicnotice.gov? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DavidD_CA ( 750156 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @09:36PM (#28090473) Homepage

    Why doesn't the government set up a specific website, such as publicnotice.gov, and require the use of that?

    Governments all over are already using internet web services such as BidSync to post their bids in lieu of other methods for public notice.

    I'd much rather have a single website to review than classified ads which may never make it online.

    Maybe there's a more elegant solution to my 5-second thought above, but we can't keep using local newspapers. It's practically a monopoly-type service for newspapers (public notices run about $200 or more in a small city because there is no competition), and one that will soon fall apart when these organizations die.

    • Unless that's a easily indexable website with all public domain content that can be copied and mirrored freely, it would probably do more harm than good.

      Libraries everywhere are able to copy and "mirror" newspapers for archival and reference purposes. If publicnotice.gov was a single point of reference (failure), you get just as much ability for Orwellian history manipulation.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:34PM (#28090885) Homepage

    This is a good thing, but it has to be done right. Like the SEC's EDGAR system.

    EDGAR now has a user-friendly interface and a search engine, but underneath is a huge collection of raw SGML files accessible via FTP. These files stay up forever and their names and contents do not change. Many big services (Bloomberg, EDGAR Online, Google, etc.) grind through that data every day. One of my systems, Downside [downside.com], does it too. There's no charge for access, bulk downloads are supported, and the raw filings are accessible. That's the way it should work.

    What you don't want is something you can only access through a search engine, with some of the information on a pay site. A bad example is Delaware's corporate record system.

    So the minimum standards for a public records system that replaces publication should be comparable to those maintained by EDGAR.

  • > eschew newspapers and post notices of public record on their own Web sites.

    This will be great for the Aussie Government. Public servants are supposed to advertise externally so all appointments are competitive, but they typically pick a buddy or relative for the job. The external advertising is a real pain because it gets applicants who might get the job.

    No problem! They convene an "Interview Panel" populated by the buddy's friend and three other disinterested public servant chair-warmers who have
  • In some cities, there are still too many people who rely on public notices in print format.

    Also, there should be an "official write once" record of all such notices deposited somewhere. This doesn't have to be print, microfilm, CD, or whatever.

    If the "official write once" version is not made at the time of the online version, then a signed hash of the online version should be published in write-once format at the time the online version is made, so there's no chance it could be silently edited.

  • Working journalist here...

    Public notices are a Good ThingTM, but there is no real journalistic scrutiny as a result of them appearing in a newspaper; or anywhere else for that matter.

    Most of the stuff that's required to print as public notice out here is liquor license applications, articles of incorporation, DUI checkpoint locations and open meeting schedules (not even the minutes).

    If I did my job based only on what public notices and press releases I received from the government, I'd never get anywhere at

  • Here in Johannesburg South Africa municipality tried the same thing. When half a dozen subirbs started complaining about a water outage, they were told that it was advertised on the municipal web-page. I for one certainly will not be spending a day a week looking for notices from each and every new governmental / municipal / departmental website. There could easily be a designated central point into which notices could be posted, as a poster above hinted at. But for now, I'm more than likely going to ass
  • Not only do we not get the local paper, but many here have given up on it. I would not be surprised if it goes belly up soon. I talked with a fellow who was getting it for FREE and he canceled it! I think that publishing thing in the local paper and NOT on the city web site is a way that the city hides what it wants to do. We had a red light camera ordinance that was tabled and everyone thought it was dead brought to life quickly without additional public notice even in the paper. Most of the local offic
  • I worked at the State level of government as a senior web services programmer and was tasked with improving upon the paper-based process for posting public meeting notices. Statute required (and still does) that all notices be posted for display in the Capitol building lobby at least 24 hours before the meeting was to take place. Meeting organizers would fax the notices to our main agency fax line and whoever was currently working the front desk was responsible for collecting and posting the notices. Unfo

Quark! Quark! Beware the quantum duck!

Working...