For most newspaper readers, legal notices are not exactly the first page they turn to.
An astute reader, however, might recognize just how much value they hold.
For all these giant globs of text lack in terms of prose and style they more than make up for with information. Want to know the full details of every public hearing being held in your town, you might get most of what you know from a diligent community news reporter, but you will only get every last detail from the notices municipalities are required to publish.
A particularly aware reporter might also have the legal notices to help them better shape their reporting by helping them find news that might also have used the legal notices through the cracks.
Legal pages might not win you a Pulitzer but they can help make your readers better informed and for that reason they are an important part of all community newspapers that publish them.
Of less interest to most editorial staffs and publishers is an awkward and mostly misleading title that comes with being appointed a publisher of legal notices: the designation as the “official newspaper” of a municipality. It almost suggests that a newsroom works for the town, when in reality the arrangement is for the shared purpose of informing the public. The revenue generated from the publishing of legal notices is rather small, with the National Newspaper Association estimating it accounts for between 5 and 10% of all newspaper revenue, but also comes with a cost of additional pages to print.
We raise the importance of newspaper legal notices today because our newspaper’s status as an official newspaper of Suffolk County is expected to be a subject of discussion at a meeting of the Legislature’s ways and means committee today.
That’s back in January, with little fanfare and without our staff’s knowledge, the Legislature removed us from our longstanding to publish county legal notices because responsibility to Southold Town. We were replaced, we have come to learn, by Dan’s Papers, the Southampton-based lifestyle publishers best known for printing photos of Hamptons events, entertainment news and, occasionally in the past, viral satire.
Established in 1960, the paper has never been known for its dedication to covering local government news of any kind — let alone in Southold Town, where our newspaper is based, owned locally and has continually published since 1857.
One person who recognizes this fact is Al Krupski, a Cutchogue farmer and the North Fork representative in the Suffolk County Legislature. He’s since put forward a resolution to reinstate The Suffolk Times as an official newspaper of the county — a designation our newspapers in Riverhead and Shelter Island towns still hold. He’s since enlisted local community groups to help support him in this effort to get these important and informative local legal notices into the newspaper and website engaged community residents are most likely to find them in — the one place the news might actually be covered.
A simple search of Dan’s archives shows the paper has not so much as mentioned Mr. Krupski once since it became the official newspaper for the very region he represents — that’s four fewer times than it’s referenced Geraldo Rivera, for example.
Occasionally local pols will look to remove the newspaper’s “official designation” as penalty for unflattering coverage. For a legislator to be actively lobbying for a paper to be restored as a designee, without that paper’s editorial staff having any prior knowledge of the issue, should tell you all you need to know about this one.