January 19, 2017
With the announcement of a new public notice website, the Virginia Press Association hopes to safeguard a revenue source for its members, as well as their function as the town criers.
With my dad as a reporter and my mom as an editor, you could say I come by my appreciation of newspapers honestly. In fact, I mourned the day my hometown paper, The Herndon Observer, shuttered in 2010.
“It was no sudden thing, no one event, just the general challenges that are facing the newspaper market kind of caught up with us,” said then-publisher Christopher Moore to Biz Journals. “Ultimately it was really just a business decision. There was no problem with readership. The numbers just weren’t there.”
The Virginia Press Association recently announced its own business decision.
Founded in the late 19th century, VPA has the same mission today that it did 100-plus years ago: to represent the interests of its member newspapers. One way that VPA is doing that these days is through a new website—PublicNoticeVirginia.com—which is set to go live in April.
Public notices—those newspaper advertisements that are required by law about everything from government contracts to foreclosure notices—are one of the ways that newspapers inform their communities. “They’re called public notices because it’s information the public needs to know,” said Betsy Edwards, VPA’s executive director.
Newspapers, which inform the public, are the obvious vehicle for public notices, Edwards said. But every year, local governments around the country have put forth bills that would eliminate the law requiring public notices in newspapers. Chief among legislators’ reasons for proposing these bills is that no one reads papers anymore. However, Edwards posits, “Circulation numbers have changed, but people still read newspapers, and they certainly read newspaper content online.”
Edwards hopes that PublicNoticeVirginia.com—which will be similar to other websites already launched by dozens of state press associations—will help VPA members by cementing the importance of newspapers to communities and safeguarding an existing revenue source.
“Public notice income is important to newspapers,” she said. “It’s not huge, compared to their advertising revenues, but it’s certainly something they would like to keep. But they would also like to keep this role of being the go-to place—the town crier, if you will—about what’s going on, not just in the government but in the whole community.”
The new site will aggregate all of the public notices that appear in Virginia’s daily and weekly newspapers, allowing users to search the state’s public notices for free. “The only reason we can have a statewide website and that we can aggregate every single public notice from every day is because they’re already in newspapers,” she said.
Edwards said that Virginia legislators are encouraged by the new site, which will allow the public a third way to see public notices—in addition to print and digital versions of newspapers. She’s also hopeful that VPA and state officials can work together, if any future issues arise concerning public notices.
“As a press association, we’re obviously looking for ways to provide support and services and products that our members could not develop on their own,” Edwards said. “This is an opportunity for VPA to do something that benefits all the newspapers in Virginia and, really, all the citizens of the commonwealth.”