Guilford County Commission joins war against News & Record

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.

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Comments

I want both!

Some people avoid the internet just because. That is probably a good thing.

I did subscribe to the N&R last year because
1.they were covering the Person DA adventures
2. they were covering the voting rights trials.
3. they offered an on-line only sub.
4. I felt I should support them.
It's also been handy to be able to check the archives.
You can too - do your part to make Trudy Wade cry.
"Receive unlimited digital access to www.greensboro.com, the News & Record E-Edition (print replica), 1808: Greensboro’s Magazine E-Edition (print replica), unlimited News & Record archives, updated ‘late breaking news’ coverage and access to our mobile application.
As low as $15.74 per MONTH (plus tax)."

I took it for several years

But I found myself only reading it every other day, and then every third day. It was nothing particular, just me, really. I've never been much for sports scores or gardening tips or cultural conversations, and when you pull out one section and ignore the rest, pretty soon you realize you're buying a lot of stuff you don't need.

Now, if you could look directly at what is read in the newspaper

Well, that's what newspaper readership surveys did back in the day when I worked full-time for a mainstream, daily newspaper and actually pored through readership surveys. Those were the days when the comics pages of some newspapers were better-read than their editorial pages (but not ours) and some (to us important) local news stories were apparently read in full only by the reporter, one copy desk editor and a couple of the people named in them. That was before the dawn of the Web. Whether there is a justifying readership for legal ads published in any print publication, especially the one in question, is IMHO a legitimate question that in my newspaper-loving mind deserves serious consideration.

Well, there is no doubt

the legal notices section gets fewer eyes than other parts of the paper, but the same could be said (to a much greater degree) if those notices were posted only on the municipal government's website. Especially if you had to open a pdf just to see them. From what my research tells me about traffic to those sites, the vast majority of visitors are looking for one thing in particular; whether it's where to pay a parking ticket, how to obtain a business permit, etc., they are not there to browse.

Also, and this is based on my own (personal) reading habits: When I do pick up a paper, I read the legal notices section to find out when they're having Estate auctions, mostly to see if somebody had a large collection of books that are going to be sold off. And maybe a dirt bike. :)

So I think the question should be: which medium (paper or government website) will have the most people looking at it? And to choose the one that would have less overall exposure, just because it's cheaper, undermines the whole idea of (legally) making sure the public is notified.

Agreed

Yes to your conclusion.

I eschew printed newspapers

I eschew printed newspapers
They are such a waste of resources - even if we can recycle them now.

I do scan the entire local paper (online) that comes out twice weekly - except the full page car ads. Mostly for the local D party facebook pages I manage.
I check the N&R every few days and search for Bradsher - cause I like a little schadenfreude with my evening glass of red wine. The local paper (conservative!) has had very little about the DA's misadventures. I wonder why.... NOT!

I should probably get an online sub to the N&O. I had one a while back but let it lapse.

Yeah, for all its warts,

the News & Observer has the most meat & potatoes for a political junkie. I've been mulling subscriptions for other NC dailies, but I couldn't do what I do without a subscription to the N&O.

I so want to want to read newspapers

no that's not redundant. I believe in the fourth estate. It is an important tenet of our democracy, plus Rachel Maddow is always telling me to do it, it's just way too much clutter in an already messy existence. Both in a physical and a mental way. If I could get the journalism with out all the advertising and fluff, I would subscribe.