Conn. bill threatens newspaper legal notices

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By James H. Smith, executive editor, The Bristol Press and New Britain Herald

A committee of the Connecticut General Assembly voted a 13-1 slap at the traditional press and sent to the state Senate a bill that will bleed legal notice advertising out of newspapers.

The bill, originally proposed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, allows requests for bids on municipal projects and other legal notices, to run on municipal websites for free. The notices have been a staple of newspaper advertising for more than a century.

The governor’s budget office predicted towns and cities would save about $2.1 million annually, and, of course, newspapers would lose that revenue at a time they are losing ad revenue like a river flowing inevitably to the sea.

The one committee vote against the measure, came from Tim O’Brien, Democrat of New Britain. There are better ways to save taxpayers’ money, such as through regionalization of services, said O’Brien, a free press advocate.

The Connecticut Daily Newspapers Association has argued that online legal advertising lacks the permanent, archival value of printed ads in a newspaper, while The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities maintains that Internet sites are more accessible to the public and posting online would save towns money.

There is no doubt technology has changed the news business and the media needs to find online revenue streams. But thousands of our readers do not have computers, and thousands more never look at municipal web sites. Legal notices are one way citizens know what their town is doing. Taking that information out of newspapers leaves citizens less informed.

With the intense lobbying going on, it remains anyone’s guess whether the bill will get to the governor’s desk, where she would most assuredly sign it.

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