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Michigan Press Association: Government control of what you know


Michigan House introduces second bill in attempt to remove public notices from newspapers

By Doug Caldwell, Michigan Press Association

Earlier this week, the Michigan House of Representatives began their 99th session. The first bill introduced deals with an important issue…rolling back Michigan’s income tax. The second bill introduced by Rep. Rob Verheulen, R-Walker, is a replica of the bill introduced in the last two sessions by former Rep. Amanda Price, R-Park Township, that would remove ALL public notice from newspapers.

The members of the Michigan Press Association find it disconcerting that subverting citizens’ rights to access information about what their government is doing is one of the first issues introduced for this legislature.

In this era of unscrupulous hacking by foreign entities it seems that depositing all the information about government activity including things like zoning, millage increases, and government takeover of personal property to the websites of the government themselves is risky at best and possibly unethical at worst.

Our Founding Fathers were so concerned and distrustful of government power that they took extraordinary measures to ensure transparency and accountability. The checks and balances provided for in the Constitution that we learned about in civics class are one such measure. A second and equally important measure is the three-legged stool of governmental accountability, the first leg of which is the proper notice of upcoming government meetings and actions. The second leg is the requirement that governments hold open meetings so that officials can be held accountable for their actions. The third leg is the Freedom of Information Act so that all people have access to government records.

These three “legs” of transparency and accountability are critical to the health of an informed democracy, and the first “leg” is under attack by some misguided government officials. Good public notice must be provided in a forum independent of the agency required to give the public notice. If not, unscrupulous officials can hide or confuse actions from the public.

These notices need to be accessible to all members of the community regardless of financial status or technical abilities. And they must also be archived in a permanent format to prevent revisions to the historical record.

Notices placed on a government website fail all these requirements. Does the entire community have the access and skills to know how and where to find this information on the Internet? No, it’s highly unlikely even in the most affluent communities. Would placing these notices on a government website save money? Very unlikely if all aspects are accounted for because the process requires staff to upload and maintain the records; websites require regular maintenance; and security is questionable at best. These failings are further compounded by a lack of independent oversight.

The Internet can be a valuable adjunct in helping keep the public informed. That is why most newspapers now post notices on their websites at no additional charge. However, government notices must be handled like the permanent legal documents they are. Newspapers have done this for hundreds of years at minimal cost. Hiding these notices on an obscure government website fails the public and contributes to the erosion of trust in government.

Our Founding Fathers would strongly disapprove. We urge you to contact your state representative and let them know you do too.

Doug Caldwell is the president of the Michigan Press Association. If you have any questions about this issue, contact lisa@michiganpress.org or call Lisa at 313-247-9859.

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The state of the newspaper address

Believe in community

Support businesses that support your local newspaper

By Lois Allen, publisher
Rockford has recently seen the shut down of one of their two local newspapers. The Rockford Independent, owned by Stafford Communications out of Greenville, Michigan, has ceased to cover and print Rockford area news. Rockford now has one local newspaper, The Rockford Squire.
Will Cedar Springs lose their one and only?
The Post has a great following of readership. We have over 1,600 friends on facebook (and a few enemies off). For over two decades, we have viewed the people of Cedar Springs through the eyes of a reporter, arriving at accidents and fires, attending city council and school board meetings, documenting historical tragedies, personal moments, growth and loss. We are a reflection of the stories and people that appear on our printed pages. We hear the voice of the people and we are their eyes and ears when they cannot attend meetings or events that may affect them.
The newspaper brings everyone together in good and bad times as one community. And this is a great little community. When a business places their advertising in the local newspaper, they are sending a message to you: “I believe in [this] community.”
However, like many small businesses, it is a fragile thing and is not immune from economic decline. The Post stands alone and is not owned or supported by a corporate body. It does not receive government grants or special tax breaks. It is like any other business. It has to make payroll, printing and it has to pay its bills. Each newspaper costs almost $1 to produce from start to finish. Truly, it’s no small feat we are still printing every week.  While some local newspapers may be thriving, we are struggling day to day to break even.
We are not asking for support from our business community in, around and next to Cedar Springs, we offer a SOLUTION for them. Utilize your local newspaper. We can be the first step in your business recovery.
We print 5,000 newspapers and distribute them to everyone. Our web site is open and available to anyone, which had more than 13,000 visits last week. Yes, that’s in just one week. The site had 8,000 hits in just one day alone. How can you not see a value in that? Maybe it’s still too small to attract big business, but what local business wouldn’t want nearly 20,000 potential customers (print and web combined) knowing they are here? Who else can offer that locally?
As our community grows, it draws bigger business. But big business doesn’t need the local newspaper. They have thousands and even millions in advertising dollars to run nationally or spend big bucks on direct mail advertising.
Small businesses should take advantage—you can afford the local newspaper! What better place to promote what you have to offer than next to the faces and stories of your customers?
We want to keep printing these stories and faces. We want to continue to document the heart and soul of Cedar Springs. And, if not enough see the value in it then they will surely lose it—forever. And so will the people of Cedar Springs. Imagine what Cedar Springs would be like without the Post.
If it was up to you (the readers) or me, of course, we want the Post to keep coming. But it’s not up to us. So I’m calling on all local businesses, doctors, lawyers, car repair shops, beauty salons, dentists, plumbers, electricians, tree farms, retail shops and anyone wishing to do business in Cedar Springs! Use this local paper. Spend some of your advertising dollars here. It’s the most American thing you can do.
We deserve our paper too!

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