Five questions, answers about Public Notices

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 12, 2009

We are celebrating National Newspaper Week Oct. 4-10, and we want our readers to know how important public notices are.

Public notices published in newspapers provide citizens a window into government. Here are five questions and answers to help you better understand why public notices published in a newspaper are so important.

1) What is a public notice?

A public notice is information informing citizens of government or government-related activities that affect citizens’ everyday lives.

2) Why do we need public notices?

An important premise found in both federal and local governments is that information about government activities must be accessible in order for the electorate to make well-informed decisions. Public notices in newspapers provide this sort of accessibility to citizens who want to know more about government activities.

3) What is the history of public notices?

The history of public notice begins long before the emergence of newspapers. The concept has existed since early civilizations posted notices in public squares. This crude method was eventually refined with the publication of the first publication of the first English language newspaper in 1665 — a court newspaper called The Oxford Gazette.

In America, the Acts of the First Session of the First Congress in 1789 required that all bills, orders, resolutions and congressional votes be published in at least three publicly available newspapers.

Upholding the public’s right to know has been essential to our country’s way of life since day one. Our government governs with the consent of people, and this consent must be informed.

4) What are some examples of public notices?

Publication of proposed budgets for local governments, notices of local government hearings, bid notices, board and agency meeting minutes and pre-election notices are just a few examples.

5) Are newspapers the most effective vehicle for public notices?

Public notices published in newspapers ensures readership by those most likely to be interested in or affected by the notices. Plus, the notices arrive at readers’ homes or places of work in a newspaper filled with local news and information that compels readership.

Newspapers are paid to publish public notices, which guarantees that valuable newspaper space will be devoted to notifying the public.

The system works the same way in which qualified vendors are paid to provide goods and services to government entities, such as contractors who build schools and roads or an office supplies store that wins a bid to sell office supplies to a government agency.

In recent years, some have questioned the need to publish notices in local newspapers, saying the Internet has become so widely used it represents a better way of informing the public. The Internet can play a role in a better informed citizenry, but public notices buried in government Web sites cannot replace the value delivered by newspapers.

The permanence, stability and independent verification offered by publication of public notices in newspapers ensure citizens have access to bonafide, trusted information about the business of government.