A legislative committee turned down efforts to stop requiring local governments to place legal ads in newspapers this week.
Polls in North Carolina of county plus town and city governments show local governments spent about $6 million last year on legal ads and public notices, according to the Associated Press.
Discussions about the notice requirements ran hot and heavy among Charlotte Twitter people. Discussions centered on the print and online circulation numbers for established media as well as the lack of online access for specific groups.
The Charlotte Society of Professional Journalists will likely put the issue on the agenda of a future meeting.
Here’s the full story on legal notices in newspapers in North Carolina.
TriadWatch has used freedom of information requests to gather some numbers about public notices and legal ad spending. Here’s part of what they found, matched up with audited print circulation numbers for the newspapers that benefited:
The City of High Point spent $49,000 on public notices in Fiscal Year 2009-2010.
The High Point Enterprise had a Sunday print circulation of 18,300, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation for the six-month period ending March 31, 2011.
The City of Greensboro spent about $128,000 in public notices in two local newspapers since January 2010.
The Greensboro News and Record, which has received about $96,000 from the city since January 2010, has a published Sunday print circulation of about 86,500, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation. Online numbers would be higher. (I don’t know if they provide legal ads online.)
The Carolina Peacemaker, which received about $31,000 from the City of Greensboro, appears to have a print circulation of about 5,000, weekly, though those numbers could be out of date. On its own site, it lists a readership of 60,000, likely including online numbers.
Circulation numbers, in print and online, are difficult quantitative measures of reach these days. Some news organizations have free print products with large circulation numbers not included in the ABC numbers. Many news organizations measure their online reach in ways that are not comparable. Much of the Twitter discussion in Charlotte the past week centered on these numbers; I’d suggest moving the conversation up a level or two to look at all the possible futures of public notices before focusing on specific ways to compare influence and reach.
Noted by TriadWatch: The Charlotte Observer partners with legalnotice.org to display legal notices in a somewhat searchable way, supported by advertising. The screenshot above is from a search through the organization. The “About” page gives little details about the company. The company also provides subscriber services.
Worth consideration: More granular, searchable, open information could enable more detailed search information, provided in more accessible, easy-to-use interfaces, available to more readers and new companies, perhaps even local startups.
Here’s traffic data from Alexa for legalnotice.org:
“There are 829,298 sites with a better three-month global Alexa traffic rank than Legalnotice.org. Visitors to the site view 2.9 unique pages each day on average. Visitors to the site spend approximately 45 seconds on each pageview and a total of two minutes on the site during each visit. Search engines refer approximately 22% of visits to the site. Legalnotice.org has been online for more than twelve years.”
Also from Alexa: 170 sites link in to legalnotice.org, and its traffic rank in the United States is 143,925.
For this legislative session, the issue is off the table. But it will arise again.
We should talk more and include experts in a variety of fields. We need to move beyond thinking the issue of the cost of public notices and legal ads is merely two-sided, with established media on one side and with cash-strapped taxpayers and governments on the other.