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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The next blow to the newspapers

The leadership of the Oregon state bar is gearing up to urge the legislature to change the rules about where legal notices are published. For eons, the law has required that legal notices be placed in a "newspaper of general circulation," but that's gotten more expensive and less effective as time has marched on. Those of us who never touch the dead-tree version of the local news any more have zero chance of ever seeing these notices (although we didn't look at them much in the old days, either).

Now the state bar is thinking about starting its own legal notice system on line, with proceeds going to worthy causes like legal aid:

[T]he legal notice system rules have long since outlived their time. It is time for legal notice to be better, smarter, and more efficient and much, much less expensive. This is both possible and necessary, and can happen by creation of a single, publicly owned, centralized system where anyone can publish a legal notice that satisfies the publication requirement.

This change is inevitable, and should be welcomed, although it will disrupt operations for those who profit from the existing system. When the new system arrives – and it will arrive – we will soon enjoy a host of benefits, many of which we cannot yet imagine. We can imagine some obvious improvements: without the exorbitant cost for publishing notices in newspapers with plummeting readership, we will see notices in many languages, video notices, notices about places with maps as finely detailed as desired, audio notices for the blind, notices with detailed definitions of complex legal terms, notices that show people the places being discussed, and on and on.

The newspaper companies can be expected to howl in protest. Craigslist killed their lucrative classified ad trade, and loss of the legal notice business could be the straw that breaks the camel's back at some of these publications. But it's hard to think that it isn't going to happen at some point, and maybe that point is now.

Comments (7)

Jack, it would be worth finding out if that publication requirement includes the word "daily" anywhere near "newspaper of general circulation."

If so, it's not just the lawyers who are taking an interest in this.

If "daily" is there, the media companies who got that language placed there to their own benefit now may be hoist on their own petard if, say, a daily newspaper decides to go three times weekly in the near future.

It's already happened with notice of a sheriff's sale after judicial foreclosure of real property. The sheriffs now have their own website and charge $250 to publish notice, which is much less than a newspaper of general circulation will charge, particularly if the legal description is lengthy, as it is for many rural properties.

For awhile the Portland Tribune folks were kind enough to mail me a copy of the Tigard-Tualatin Times at home.

Nearly 3/4ths of the newspaper was nothing but legal notices - mostly foreclosure notices. Consistently, every single week. In fact the legal notice "section" of the newspaper was heavily outsized and outweighed the entire rest of the newspaper's content - advertising supplements included!

Needless to say I'm not going to waste my money on that. They've stopped mailing me the freebies (and the Oregonian finally has gotten around to stopping delivery of their newspaper, even though my subscription ended way back in March with no renewal). And my recycling bin's contents have dropped significantly as a result.

Why put it under the bar though rather than directly under the SOS or DOJ? The real problem I see, and it's with the newspapers too as they've declined in circulation, is that these notices will be tucked away somewhere, out of sight out of mind, to the advantage of the filer.

1. If Andrew is right about unnoticed notices, then he may have discovered an under served market for a blog/notification service to tell people who need to know about legal notices.
2. By now Kevin has probably gleaned from the other posts that publication in a "daily" is not required. In fact, smaller weekly publications will probably be hurt most by online alternatives. I don't follow this stuff any more, but at one time a major goal of a new weekly was to last a year, because you had to be in business that long to qualify for legal ads.

CraigsList killed newspapers is mostly myth. Corporate moneygreed killed newspapers by making them (the bought-out victims) report moneyprofits instead of report news. Actually, the loss of Public Notice so-called 'tombstone' ads (and at plump Display Ad rates), paid by taxpayers into 'public' government, causes more revenue loss than from classified ad billings in most newspapers ... and bleeding red ink isn't just starting now -- the Public Notices have been dwindling for about 10 years since Bush put the Nine-Eleven Op hoax fear on public information and public circulation.

I argue against either the state bar or state (public) aegis publishing Public Notices on-line only. Sure, publish on-line but more: Publish the same (on-line) material in hard copy, ink on paper. Circulation of the Notices paper is a separate matter -- I suppose by 'opt in' for subscribers -- anyway, it won't be by newspaper publication anymore, yet always have it as accessible as newspaper sales is.

Such 'Publick Notices' were the original 'bills' posted along public sidewalks and boardwalks, and were the 'news' the town criers hollered in-herald. Moving all of it on-line is good but NOT good enough. Of all people, barristers must know to do the paperwork ... or perish.

This is probably a good idea - it'll be a centralized place for people to hunt through the notices for things that are important to them - but it should not be managed by the OSB. The Bar is set up to manage lawyers (and it manages them thoroughly). It does not and should not otherwise have anything to do with the legal system as a whole.

The Secretary of State and Oregon Judicial Department would be better managers, as would a private contractor.

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