/ Discussion

Newspaper closures highlight the need for online notice

Postmedia announced today that it is closing six newspapers in Ontario and Alberta and ending printing for another three. These closures are in addition to the dozens of papers closed late last year.

The legal dimension

The disappearance of print newspapers is obviously impacting local journalism. But what's often missed is that these closures have legal implications. Statutes across Canada are full of requirements to publish information in the local paper. To pick one example, section 3(2) of Ontario's Innkeepers Act says that:

... an innkeeper has the right, in case the same remains unpaid for three months, to sell by public auction the goods of the guest, on giving one week’s notice of the intended sale by advertisement in a newspaper published in the municipality in which the inn is situate or, in case there is no newspaper published in the municipality, in a newspaper published nearest to the inn

There are similar requirements across Canada for municipalities, sales of public land, public meetings, bankruptcy, storage lockers, among others. When there is no public newspaper available, it becomes impossible to comply with these laws. This problem isn't academic. Cities, like Ottawa, are expressing concern that they're no longer able to fulfil their public notice obligations.

Online notice

Print newspapers are no longer an effective tool for communicating information to the public. Today you're going to reach far more people over the internet. But putting notices online isn't enough. The Manitoba government recently walked back its plan to eliminate newspaper notice requirements and replace them with online listings in the Gazette. The proposed legislation was criticized for making notices inaccessible. After all, who's going to see information when it's hidden away in some obscure government publication and people have to actively look for it?

The answer to this public policy question is not to keep notices in newspapers. Rather, the solution is to do online notice effectively with a comprehensive platform. At NoticeConnect, we've changed how estate notices to creditors are published. Our platform connects our notices to creditors - big and small - via social media, search-engine optimization, free mailing lists, a searchable database, and even direct mail updates.

We use this same technology to build custom public notice websites for governments. Putting public notices online with our platform makes them more accessible, not less. Governments can publish information in multiple languages. They can include visuals to better communicate the information. And our system can automatically send print editions to be distributed to community centres to reach those who are not connected to the internet.