I recently came across a post on one of the local community Facebook pages mentioning how the city council would be designating the official newspaper for 2020 and encouraging residents to contact their council members with their opinion about which newspaper they think it should be. That post resulted in a couple comments that I would like to address here.
The first was a few people questioning why this is an agenda item for a city council. The short answer to this is because it is required by state statute. You see, in the interest of encouraging transparency, local governments such as city councils, county boards and school boards must publish information such as summaries of actions taken at previous meetings, certain possible actions to be taken at future meetings, along with a variety of other information and reports.
These public notices must be made in a designated newspaper that is accessible to the general public at the local governments’ expense. Lately, there has been a push to eliminate this statute under the concept that a vast majority of local governments have the capability to publish such information on their own website.
The argument against this is that local governments could easily “hide” this information in their website, making it very difficult for people to find it. Now, I’m not suggesting that any of our local governments would be apt to do this. In fact, many of them have gone above and beyond, offering audio and/or video coverage of their meetings to the general public.
But additionally, as many in this area know, internet access is very limited. Also, there are still many people who aren’t as tech-savvy who would struggle to find this information, no matter how “easy” it is to find on a website. For those people, it is vital to have this information readily available to them in the form of a newspaper.
For many local governments, this designation is a very easy one since only one qualified newspaper will bid for this service. However, several of this area’s local governments receive bids from two or more newspapers. In that case, the local governments must choose one newspaper to publish all of their public notices in. A majority of the time, they will go with the least expensive bid; however, if the bids are close to being the same, they can make a choice based on circulation size or other factors.
The other comment that went along with questioning why this was an agenda item was, “Why does it matter, since nobody reads newspapers anymore?”
Besides being disappointing to hear, I firmly believe this to be an inaccurate statement, especially at the local level. While it is tough for a free newspaper such as the Star to back this claim up with statistics such as an increase in the number of subscriptions purchased, I did recently take a look at how many times our articles have been viewed on our website. That number has absolutely exploded over the last year or so. In 2019, the Star’s articles have been viewed a total of over a half-million times.
So, while it may be true that not as many people pick up a physical copy of the newspaper, there is obviously considerable interest in what is included in local newspapers. And in turn, why the decision for naming a local government’s official newspaper is, in fact, an important one.
BILL STICKELS III is editor of the Isanti-Chisago County Star. He can be reached at 763-689-1181 ext. 107 or email@example.com.