In a recent article in Columbia Journalism Review, Liena Zagare and Ben Smith argue that local governments should move public notice and other civic advertising from newspapers to local-news websites like Zagare’s BKLYNER.
To buttress their case, they claim that a newspaper in their borough, the Brooklyn Eagle, recently had “three of its 12 pages entirely covered” by advertising designed to “make sure taxpayers see how their money is being spent, and to prevent officials from hiding corrupt deals.” But those three pages of advertising in the Eagle were placed by law firms, not public officials. And its purpose was to provide official notice of courtroom process, not public spending. That’s a pretty glaring mistake. Surely, CJR would want to correct the record, right?
For over 200 years, public notices have been published in newspapers in part as a consequence of the inviolability of newsprint. Legislators have always understood that when they passed laws requiring notice of official actions to be published in newspapers, a record of the notice would be easy to authenticate and would remain in newspaper archives in perpetuity.
A recent conference of independent researchers provides an excellent reminder that government websites fail miserably at meeting that traditional public-notice standard.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a new law clarifying that public meeting notices required by state law may be emailed to newspapers for publication. A review of the applicable law indicates the statute formerly stated merely that notice “shall be given to the news media.” The bill signed by Gov. Cuomo adds the words “or electronically transmitted” to the statute. “This is a positive step that will save time in getting notices to the media and therefore getting them out to the public,” the president of the New York State Town Clerks Association told the Albany Times Union. The new law also requires notices of government meetings that are live streamed to the public to include the web address of the site streaming the meeting.
The national media tend to operate in internet-saturated media environments and often overlook the value of print to key constituencies. As a result, Consumers for Paper Options, an organization funded by the paper and mailing industries, has an uphill battle to be heard as it tries to preserve the ability of the public to read information on paper.
Several newspaper representatives testified last week in favor of public notices in newspapers at the initial meeting of Wisconsin’s Legislative Council Study Committee on the Publication of Government Documents and Legal Notices. The committee was authorized by the legislature to study the state’s public notice laws and make recommendations for changes that “reflect technological advances.”
The high-profile cyberattack on Sony would have challenged almost any cyber security measures, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has said. An FBI investigation calls the level of sophistication of the software used by the hackers “extremely high” and the attacks “organized and certainly persistent.”
Joe Demarest, assistant director of the FBI’s cyber division, told the Senate Banking Committee that “the malware that was used would have gotten past 90 percent of the Net defenses that are out there today in private industry and [would have been] likely to challenge even state government.” His comments were officially confirmed later by the FBI.