by Hunter Dawkins

Recent legislation has been brought up in the state legislature about the validity of having public and legal notices in the local newspapers or putting all government notes online, here are a few facts everyone should know:

*Statewide surveys consistently have shown that Mississippians read public notices in newspapers. A 2016 survey of Mississippi households showed that 7-in-10 of Mississippians read their local newspaper and more than half of all Mississippians recall reading public notices published in their local newspaper.

*When asked if they would look for public notices on government websites, 12% responded they would prefer to receive legal ads on the internet.

*Mississippi newspapers have developed a website (mspublicnotices.org) that regularly posts Mississippi public notices. Readership of those same notices in newspapers dwarfed readership on the web by a ratio of 71 to 1.

*When a newspaper publishes a public notice, in effect the newspaper is acting in the role of a third-party verifier or auditor of the notice. The newspaper is responsible for typesetting and preparing the notice for print and is responsible for signing a sworn affidavit of publication for every public notice published.

*Once the legal notice has been published in print, it’s permanent. Allowing local governments to put notices on the web rather than publish them in the newspaper removes those critical verification and auditing roles. The stability of newspapers as a medium for public notices is unquestioned.

*Local newspapers hold much more credibility than anything on the internet. They have been around centuries longer and are remain among the most respected sources for news coverage. The Internet is used largely for entertainment value, and while the newspaper is also meant to be entertaining, it is the newspaper’s purpose to provide hard core news each edition. This is where the public expects to find public notices.

*Newspapers have a high level of readership among those who are most likely to look for and read public notices— the Internet does not. Why change something that has worked for centuries when it's not broken?

*There is no comparison between having public notices packaged in a mainstream product containing relevant, useful and timely community information (news, sports, grocery ads, classifieds, etc.) delivered to your doorstep or mailbox to trying to access public notices through a computer (turning on the computer, dialing an ISP, remembering a specific URL to find the site and scrolling through a computer screen just to see if a public notice has appeared).

The Internet remains subject to hacking and manipulation. Internet hackers have compromised even the most secure websites. Publication of a public notice in print is permanent – a verifiable, bona fide record of that public notice.

After reviewing this analysis, if there still is a question of internet search, the Mississippi Press Association (MPA) has a very stable site to look for all public notices throughout the state at mspublicnotices.org.  All are available in a searchable, county-by-county electronic archive.

Smart Search features are available for individuals interested in tracking notices by county or category. A Smart Search subscription allows you to receive the information daily via email at no charge.

Mississippi newspapers, which have been the trusted publisher of public notice advertisements for over a century, launched this service to improve public access to public notices and foster more accountability and transparency in government. The service is provided at no charge to government agencies or the public. While participation is not mandatory by state law, MPA makes a good faith effort to promote and maintain support from its 100 member newspapers.

The Gazebo Gazette is a proud member of the MPA supporting public notices.