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KATIE ZERR: Community newspapers are important connectors

Will a move on the state level in South Dakota to establish a one-stop online site for all governmental meeting minutes harm local newspapers?
In the 2021 legislative session, a bill was introduced that would have established a public notices website and required all local governments to post their meeting agendas and minutes to it. The bill was tabled because it was reported that legislation was not necessary for the state to establish the website.
The work continues behind the scenes to get the website up and running. The South Dakota Newspaper Association (SDNA) and the First Amendment Committee of South Dakota are strongly against this move to ultimately eliminate public notices in newspapers. It is the feeling of the membership of the association that this will not only be a hit on the newspapers revenues but also impede some residents in having access to this information if it is taken out of local newspapers.
In order to help fight this battle the SDNA has recently launched a public notices website and is urging all newspapers to participate by uploading their public notices to it regularly. Members of SDNA feel that providing the public with a public notices website that is better than anything government can do is essential to save public notices in newspapers.
The public notices website, is part of the SDNA’s pro-active strategies to promote newspapers as the essential independent third party for informing South Dakotans about what government is doing, according to a press release from the association.
This is part of the plan by SDNA to demonstrate to public policymakers and all citizens that public notices published in newspapers is vital to good government.
Across the country, lawmakers are working to take notice publications from paid-circulation newspapers to government websites or government-printed publications, newspaper websites, free-circulation newspapers, legal newspapers or shoppers.
Legislation like this would have a negative economic impact on local newspapers in our state and others with rural residents whose newspaper are their connection to local governments.
At the Mobridge-Pollock School Board meeting on Tuesday, member Eric Stroeder, who is also a member of the board of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, told the school board at recent policy and resolutions meetings there were discussions on the work of the Noem administration to establish this website. It was discussed that this move to eliminate local newspapers from public notices would hurt local community newspapers that are a link between the schools and their communities.
“As an association we don’t want to be on a board that would do something to harm our local newspaper,” he told the board. “Our newspapers cover our district well and is important to our district patrons.”
In larger communities, disagreements between governments and the local newspapers are in part one of the reasons for this work at the state level. Some school districts also do not want to pay newspapers to publish their minutes. But as Stroeder told the school board, local newspapers are the connection between some patrons and the schools.
We all know what works in larger communities does not always work for rural communities and in some cases have the opposite effect than what is proposed. The SDNA works hard to keep the playing field level for newspapers of all sizes. The difference between the larger papers such as the Argus Leader and Rapid City Journal and smaller ones like the Prairie Pioneer, Selby Record and Mobridge Tribune is vast, but it does not make smaller community newspapers less important.
Local newspapers whose primary content is original to the community news and current events, serve the needs of a regional or local communities.
We are the link that connects the local governments and our community. It is our mission to continue to do so, despite the actions of governments to break that link.

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