A frustrating, ongoing battle for the South Carolina Press Association -- and press associations across the country -- involves attempts by some state legislatures to move printed community public notices from county seat newspapers to the endless frontier that is the World Wide Web.
This in effect hides a community's public notices from the public by scattering them online versus publishing them in a given county's newspaper of record, where they are published in print (and usually online also) by a trusted source that's easy to find.
A public notice is, in simplest terms, a notice given to the public regarding certain types of legal proceedings.
In The (Sumter) Item, for example, the "Legals" appear in print and online, and include public hearings, estate notices, foreclosures, probate action, notices of sales, summons, bid notices, beer and wine licenses and abandoned vehicles and boats. You can learn a lot about any community simply by reading the legals, and many news stories are generated as a result, such as recent public hearings for a strip club in Sumter.
One of my favorite examples occurred in Darlington County years ago when I was publisher of the Hartsville newspaper. A public hearing notice came in about a company's intent to locate a gigantic factory hog farm just outside the city limits.
We ran the public notice, as required by law and also started doing stories about exactly what a "mega" hog farm would mean for the city of Hartsville. People raised a stink about it, to put it mildly, and the issue was resolved. No hog farms for Hartsville.
Imagine the implications for any community if citizens are expected to search various websites just to find out what may be coming down the pipe from individuals, businesses or their own local government. In the pages of a community newspaper -- and on our related websites -- there is at least a fair chance for anyone to be made aware of such issues.
Here are some key points in the battle to keep public notices in front of the public:
Tell your legislator you don't want hog farms and strip clubs sneaking into South Carolina communities unannounced.
Graham Osteen is co-president of Osteen Publishing Co. and editor-at-large of The (Sumter) Item.