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Missouri senator moves to kill legal ads in newspapers

Monday, February 8, 2010 | 5:22 p.m. CST; updated 4:03 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 11, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — Newspapers are no longer the most efficient medium for some local governments to post financial information, Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, told a Senate committee Monday.

The Senate Finance Committee heard testimony on Bray's bill, which would enable third- and fourth-class cities and villages to publish government financial reports and candidate announcements online instead of in newspapers — as is currently required by law.

Bray, a former journalist, said some residents in St. Louis don't have access to community papers and the costs of running ads in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch are detrimental to local government budgets, which are under strain from the current financial crisis.

Richard Gard, Missouri Press Association president, said allowing governments to post the notices themselves provides an "invitation for mischief."

Newspapers provide an independent information source for citizens, Gard said, and without this independent source, local governments could delay or attempt to hide the posting of information.

The Missourian is a member of the Missouri Press Association.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said he questioned a newspaper's role as an independent arbiter of government information.

"Does the newspaper do an audit of (government-provided) information?" Lembke asked.

"We publish what they give us, and then we attest that this is the notice as it appeared in the newspaper," Gard said

Gard said the notices provide a permanent archive for government postings, while constantly changing technology would provide no such archive if a local government was required to only post financial reports and announcements online.

Lembke, however, said, in his experience, once something is on a Web site it would be available forever.

Former Press Association President Vicki Russell said the association and the Post-Dispatch began working with local governments last year and had lowered advertising rates to 2002 levels.

The Post-Dispatch has now trained specific employees to deal with certain municipalities, Russell said, and these employees "are charged with the task of working within the budgets of the cities and counties they are dealing with."

"This is just about revenue for newspapers, isn't it?" Lembke asked Russell.

"No, it is not," Russell said, adding that her current paper — the Columbia Daily Tribune — would not be affected by the proposed changes.


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