Scott Stanford: Best to keep legal notices in print and online

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Scott Stanford

Scott Stanford is general manager of the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Call him at 970-871-4202 or email sstanford@SteamboatToday.com

— The Steamboat Today has launched the website Routt­CountyLegals.com this week. The site is a collection of all legal and public notices published in the newspaper.

Legal notices, or “legals,” are announcements of public interest that governmental agencies and some private parties are required to publish. Examples include requests for proposals, public hearings, notices to creditors, individual name changes and foreclosure sales. They are published every Sunday in section B of the paper.

We also have published legals to our website in PDF form, which can be difficult to read and hard to search. RouttCountyLegals.com lists legal notices individually by publication date, and the information is fully searchable.

This came about after bills were drafted in the Colorado Legislature this session to change the rules for publishing legal notices. For more than a century, governmental entities have been required to buy legals in newspapers, and newspapers have been allowed to charge for this advertising. It’s important to note that legal advertising rates are set by the Legislature and haven’t changed in 20 years.

Still, there is a cost to government associated with legals, and in recent years, legislators have tried to reduce that cost by doing away with the requirement that legals be published in newspapers. The argument usually goes that government websites are an adequate alternative.

I traveled to Denver last week for committee hearings on two of the bills and spoke against one, Senate Bill 97. Neither bill made it out of committee, but I’m sure there will be more such bills in the years to come.

I want government to be transparent with the public about the work it’s doing, and legals are an important part of that process. And like any taxpayer, I also want the government to be as efficient as possible. With RouttCountyLegals.com and our print newspaper, we can deliver the broadest reach at very low cost. That’s efficiency, for the taxpayer and the public.

Review reversal

Newspapers have great responsibility in choosing what they publish. In an effort to meet that responsibility, the Steamboat Today has decided to end the restaurant reviews in its Explore Steamboat section.

I was perhaps the biggest advocate of introducing restaurant reviews at the beginning of the year. I thought they would be a great addition for readers to our newspaper pages.

But what’s the saying about hindsight? When faced with the prospect of running reviews that might be harsh on local restaurants, I balked. I worried that a single, bad dining experience by our reviewer would have a disproportionate impact on the restaurant if the story was published. I also struggled with the anonymity of the reviewer, which was necessary to ensure fair reviews. How could the restaurateur respond to criticisms without knowing who his critics were or when they ate at the restaurant?

Bottom line? We’ve discontinued the reviews. It was my decision. Others on our staff felt strongly that they should continue. I understand, but don’t share, their sentiments. If you’d like to weigh in, give me a call.

Scott Stanford is general manager of the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Call him at 970-871-4202 or e-mail sstanford@SteamboatToday.com.

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