Local Editorials

Attacks on newspapers must be rebuffed

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In February 2017, President Donald Trump used his personal Twitter account to declare “The FAKE NEWS media … is the enemy of the American people.”

This president’s campaign to destroy the Fourth Estate has not been only bluster. The Trump administration and those who seek to emulate them are doing what they can to attack and weaken press organizations – newspapers in particular.

Begin with a tariff of as much as 32 percent on Canadian newsprint, instituted at the behest of a single American paper mill based in Washington state. This bit of “America First” protectionism will benefit a handful of paper suppliers while crippling, and possibly bankrupting, newspapers around the country.

Already, people are losing their jobs. The Tampa Bay Times, one of the country's 10 largest newspapers and a winner of 12 Pulitzer Prizes, announced recently that it was laying off about 50 people as a result of the higher cost of newsprint. More job losses will follow, we fear.

Another attack on newspapers – and on the public's right to know – comes from those who want to remove the requirement that legal notices be published in local newspapers. They argue that taking legal notices out of newspapers and simply requiring they be posted on local government websites will save money, though we have yet to see convincing evidence of this.

Citizens are entitled to this information and should not have to work to find it. That’s why for years, local governments have been required to present it to their constituents in the pages of a local news outlet, and on the searchable online database, PublicNoticeIllinois.com, to ensure it is accessible to all.

Making legal notice posting the domain of local government will lead to non-compliance.

A recent audit conducted by the Citizens Advocacy Center studied over 750 public body websites in Illinois, and the results proved to be nothing short of a digital disaster. In cases where local governments are required by law to post information on their websites, only 73 percent complied with a requirement to post notice of upcoming meetings, 57 percent posted proposed meeting agendas, and less than half complied with posting approved minutes.

Local governments themselves know how to best communicate with the people they serve. When there is information they want publicized, they don’t simply post it on their websites or Facebook page – they contact the local newspaper.

Many of the people who support removing legal notices from public view in Illinois are Republicans, a position that doesn't jibe with their seeming commitment to fight the corruption in Illinois that they blame on Michael Madigan and the Illinois Democratic Party he leads. Anti-corruption advocates should lead the fight for government transparency, not against it.

Local newspapers are an integral part of the communities they serve. They hold local government accountable and give citizens the information they need to do the same.

Publication of legal notices, online and in printed newspapers, is an essential part of that function.

We oppose efforts to remove critical information from newspapers and trade barriers that are costing people their jobs, and urge all of our elected officials to do the same.