A formal opinion rendered by Wisconsin's Attorney General could have a big impact on Wisconsin's newspaper industry.
In answering a request from Kenosha County, J.B. Van Hollen last week said Wisconsin Statute doesn't require counties with a population under 250,000 to publish their proceedings in "official" newspapers. Van Hollen says they could "self publish" such notices on their websites.
Most, if not all, counties in the state currently have "official newspapers"; in fact, Clark County has five and spent nearly $11,000 publishing agendas, election notices and county board minutes in 2007.
Peter Fox, executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association hopes the opinion prompts the legislature to update the statute. He says it needs to be made clear that the intent of the public notice law is to include all levels of government.
Fox believes newspapers have some advantages over the web. He says there's a false assumption being made that people will come home from work and bring up local government websites to see what's new.
However, some counties looking to save a little money might argue most public libraries now offer internet access, not everyone buys a newspaper, and of those that do, not many scour their legal notice section. But Fox says newspapers are easier to archive and rely on an "impartial third party" to verify publication.
The Wisconsin Counties Association could not be reached for comment for this story.