If you don't like the reporting, kill the newspaper:
WHEREAS, in recent action, the North Carolina General Assembly has taken measures to advance communication options among local governments with the creation of HB 205 that sought to modernize the publication of legal advertisements and public notices to allow Guilford County, and any municipality in Guilford County, in lieu of printed publication, the option to post legal advertisements and notices on the county web site; and,
WHEREAS, not only does the option of electronic noticing broaden customer service and foster public participation, it also serves to provide an efficient and cost-effective means of communication all at the click of a button.
I realize many reading this do not subscribe to a daily newspaper, and get their information online instead. As such, you may be tempted to agree with this policy change, or (maybe worse) find yourself indifferent. But this is not about increasing dissemination of legal notices, it's about defunding an already struggling publication, the Greensboro News & Record. The N&R has been a strong, mostly progressive voice in the region, and has called out Republicans countless times for their inhumane and often unconstitutional actions. But aside from that "kill the paper" goal of this bill, the very premise that shifting that information online will increase the number of people who see them is faulty, for several reasons. The most obvious reason is the low traffic to the site, but here's another: In order to host all those legal notices, the government website will likely cache them in pdf files, further burying that information. That's not just my opinion:
The World Bank recently decided to ask an important question: Is anyone actually reading these things? They dug into their Web site traffic data and came to the following conclusions: Nearly one-third of their PDF reports had never been downloaded, not even once. Another 40 percent of their reports had been downloaded fewer than 100 times. Only 13 percent had seen more than 250 downloads in their lifetimes. Since most World Bank reports have a stated objective of informing public debate or government policy, this seems like a pretty lousy track record.
I'm not picking on the World Bank here. In fact, they're to be commended, strongly, for not only taking a serious look at the question but making their findings public for the rest of us to learn from. And don't think for a second that this is just a World Bank problem. PDF reports are basically the bread and butter of Washington's huge think tank industry, for instance. Every single one of these groups should be taking a serious look at their own PDF analytics the way the bank has.
Government agencies are also addicted to the PDF. As The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold reported this week, federal agencies spend thousands of dollars and employee-hours each year producing Congressionally-mandated reports that nobody reads. And let's not even get started on the situation in academia, where the country's best and brightest compete for the honor of seeing their life's work locked away behind some publisher's paywall.
I recently went through the "legal notices" thing when my mom passed away, and had to publish it in a local paper to fulfill the Estate process. Most of us will probably be required to do that in our lifetimes, and some more than once. Did Trudy Wade try to help us out with that issue? No, of course not. We're not even on her radar.
And here's something else to consider, try not to choke on the irony: The Commissioners' meeting that's taking place on August 3rd where they're going to vote on this resolution was published in the paper, so people would know they're going to meet and do stuff. If they get their way, the only people who will know are those who already know, or the handful who go to the County website to find out.