As newspaper Editorial Boards begin to write about SB 208 their positions mirror what I called the tip of the iceberg and what we expected on the day that SB 208 was announced. In fact, one might almost wonder in passing if the editorial in the Standard Examiner was written by the same person who wrote the editorial in the Deseret News. Both dismiss the idea that they oppose this because it cuts into the revenue they get from publishing legal notices and both suggest that a state run website would not treat all legal notices equally. Also, neither editorial mentioned that this website would help city governments and citizens to save money on all the legal notices that they are required to publish. Essentially all their objections boil down to scare tactics as shown by this response to the Standard Examiner editorial.
As I read the Deseret News version I had a thought about an amendment to the bill that would expose the sincerity of the newspapers in their "public service" claim for opposing this. If the bill were amended to stipulate that the legal notices website allow bulk uploads of legal notices from entities such as newspapers (at bulk rates), and also allow a feed or other source for newspapers to print or otherwise republish the notices from that site (if they so choose) then I can see no reason for newspapers to object – besides the revenue competition. If the papers really are not afraid of the competition – if they honestly believe they are opposing this on public service grounds – they should simply offer to post on the state website any legal notices they receive so that their service complies with the new law (assuming it passes).
The Deseret News also provided two claims that need to be debunked.
In addition, as any Web surfer can attest, Web sites are not dependable. They are subject to technical issues, and they don’t make a reliable and enduring archivable record the way newspapers do.
As a long-time web developer I can say that whatever temporary glitches a website may have does not change the fact that web sites can produce reliable and enduring archivable records. In fact, the most reliable archivable records of newspapers are digital. For proof of that simply go look at archive.org. I can pull up old websites of mine that I know no longer exist on any computer where I ever published them. Even if a government site went down it is not likely that it would be lost.
The bill claims it would cost the state nothing. However, Web sites require considerable maintenance and personnel. Even if this new site were to fall under existing state government Web services, it still would cost taxpayers. Newspapers, on the other hand, store and archive data for nothing other than the cost of a legal notice.
This statement completely ignores what was actually said when SB 208 was first unveiled. The site would not cost taxpayers anything not because Sen. Urquhart is ignoring the cost of running a site, but because the site would charge a nominal fee to cover the costs of the website.
I have nothing against the newspapers – sometimes they have useful information – but they have yet to show a solid reason why they deserve a captive market for legal notices. To prove that, I would encourage a removal of the cap on what they can charge for legal notices (this would be even more broad than what they are pushing for in SB 161) if SB 208 is passed.