Legal Publishing Regulations and the Decline of the Local Newspaper | Media Pyro


October 31, 2022

Jill Dvorkin


The Law Society

Legal Publishing Regulations and the Decline of the Local Newspaper

According to a report by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, between the end of 2019 and the end of May 2022, more than 360 newspapers closed nationwide — and since 2005, the United States has lost more than a quarter of its newspapers. A third could disappear by 2025. The closure of these newspapers would create a “news story,” with no local journalists to report on local issues. Between 1,300 and 1,400 communities had a local newspaper in 2004 and no local news.

Factors affecting this decline include declining revenues from digital newspaper sales and newspaper publishing, declining advertising dollars, changing consumer preferences for news sources, and purchasing and merger of newspapers by hedge funds and other non-local funds, etc. .

This blog explores what this situation means for Washington state governments, including how it affects the state’s statutory publication requirements in an “official newspaper”, “newspaper of general circulation .” This blog also covers the nuts and bolts of official journalism.

Why close newspapers to local governments?

Studies show that when local newspapers close, corruption in local governments increases and public participation decreases. Fewer journalists covering local issues mean less scrutiny of local government activities and lower citizen participation in local politics – including fewer people running for local office.

As reported in the Washington Post Magazine:

(W)hen we lose local journalists, we lose the fabric that holds communities together; important information that makes democracy possible is lost; and at the most important level, the story that needs to be told is lost.

For day-to-day operations, Washington cities, towns and counties must contract with a newspaper to serve as an “official newspaper,” and to advertise/advertise in an official newspaper, a “newspaper of circulation.” or broad”. required under a number of statutes for all types of municipalities, including special purpose districts.

As many regional newspapers reduce the frequency of publication (for example, from weekly to monthly), decrease in circulation, merge with other newspapers, or close altogether, a Public agencies have fewer options when it comes to choosing their official newspaper and publishing ads. It also means that some local governments may need to change their official gazette of record. That said, MRSC is hearing from authorities that there are more errors in publication – raising concerns about a firm’s compliance with statutory disclosure obligations – and our website is seeing an increase in user searches related to official newspapers, indicating that there may be a growing concern about the region. governments.

What are the Laws relating to the designation of an official newspaper?

Requirements for the designation of an official newspaper can be found in RCW 35.21.875 for cities and towns, RCW 35A.21.230 for code cities, and RCW 36.72.075 for counties. In addition, the designation of an official newspaper can be made by decision.

A limited number of specific subject areas are required to formally designate an official journal. However, although not required by law, certain localities may choose to designate a newspaper of record by determining that it is a newspaper of general circulation in the locality.

Councils must choose a “statutory newspaper” published in the council or, if there is no statutory newspaper, a statutory newspaper published in a neighboring council.

Cities and towns must choose a newspaper “of general circulation in the town or city with the marks prescribed by chapter 65.16 RCW.”

According to RCW 65.16.020, the signs of a legal newspaper are:

(The) newspaper must be read regularly, at least once a week, in the English language, as a newspaper of general circulation, in the city or town where it is published in time of application for approval, for at least six. months before the date of such request; must be assembled in whole or in part in an office which remains in the place advertised; includes information relating to the general public as opposed to information relating to an organization, group or class; have a policy of printing all legal notices required by law; and maintains a class mail permit for each time:

It must be designated as a legal newspaper by the highest court of the district in which it is published. See RCW 65.16.040.

A newspaper of “general circulation” is not defined in law, however, the Attorney General (AGO) has considered in the context of a special meeting announcement:

It can generally be said that a newspaper is a general publication, even if it is for the needs of a certain group of people, and it is very familiar with the information and knowledge that is of interest to that class, if, in addition to specific information. , will also publish information of a general nature and of great interest, and in some cases flow among the general public.

See AGO 1956 No. 257. See also Warner v. Miner41 Wash. 98, 82 P. 1033 (1905); Beutelspacher v. Spokane Sav. Bank164 Wash. 227, 2 P.2d 729 (1931); Times Printing Co. v. Star Pub. Co., 51 Wash.. 667, 670, 99 P. 1040, 1042 (1909).

MRSC’s view of AGO language and cases of “broad communication” is that courts should defer when challenging the validity of a publication if publication is one of the best options available at the time.

If there are two or more authorized newspapers working in the jurisdiction, the legislative body of the cities, towns and municipalities will award a one-year contract by submitting a request. In a city charter, there are no bidding requirements or restrictions on the length of the contract, although best practice suggests that bidding be used when there is more than one official newspaper serving the city. (see MRSC’s City Application Manual). We also have many examples of professional newspaper calls in our Template Library.

When is Publication in the Official Journal Required?

Many laws require public agencies to publish notices in an official newspaper before the proposed agency action, immediately after the official action, or both. Although this blog does not provide a comprehensive list, below are some of the times that are required to be published in an official newspaper:

  • All cities and towns are required to publish the entire procedure or a summary in their official newspaper. See RCW 35.22.288 (first class cities); RCW 35.23.221 (second class city); RCW 35.27.300 (city); and RCW 35A.12.160 and RCW 35A.13.200 (city code).
  • Councils must provide advance notice of proposed police and sanitation laws. See RCW 36.32.120(7).
  • Calls for urban and municipal projects subject to competitive bidding must be published in an official newspaper or newspaper “of wide circulation capable of bringing responsive applications.” See RCW 35.23.352(1).
  • The final budget meetings should be announced in two weeks. See, e.g., RCW 35A.33.060 (annual city budget) and RCW 35A.34.100 (annual city budget).

Many other statutes require publication of a notice in a “newspaper of general circulation” in the jurisdiction or locality (eg, sale of property for water supply district, RCW 57.08. 015; adopting zoning ordinances, RCW 53.08.220; public utility districts apply for public service contracts RCW 54.04.070).

What are the options for local governments struggling to meet production requirements?

It has been asked whether local governments can copy the publication in the official newspaper and use other means of publication, such as publication on the department’s website. Unless the legislature changes the statutory publication requirements, local governments must continue to publish notices in an official newspaper as required by state law. Additionally, we have specified that an “official newspaper” must be a printed newspaper, unless the legislature changes the definition of a statutory newspaper. See RCW 65.16.020.

Final Thoughts

With the decline of local news, it may become increasingly difficult to find a single newspaper that meets the criteria of an official newspaper, legal newspaper, or newspaper of general circulation. Local governments may want to cast a wider net and look beyond their borders for an official newspaper. With luck, this growing trend of information deserts may slow or even reverse. A great deal of effort and funding has been invested in establishing and strengthening local and regional news outlets.

Finally, publishing in a professional newspaper is not the only way to advertise to the public about corporate ventures. Many local governments may use other tools such as social media, radio, local newspapers that are not “official newspapers,” online publications, and other media to “publish the word.” In fact, it is important to use a variety of events to reach diverse constituencies (for example, through advertisements that target certain ethnic populations). Visit the MRSC Community Engagement Resources webpage for creative and effective ways to engage and inform the public.

MRSC is a nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Official government agencies in Washington State can use the free, one-on-one, Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy or funding questions.

About Jill Dvorkin

Jill joined MRSC as legal counsel in June 2016 after serving nine years as the Skagit County civil attorney. In Skagit County, Jill advised the planning department on a variety of issues including permit processing and appeals, the Plant Management Act (GMA), enforcement, SEPA, the law, and public records. Jill was born in Fargo, ND, then moved to Bellingham to attend college and experience a new part of the country (and the mountains!). He received a BA in Environmental Policy and Planning from Western Washington University and a JD from the University of Washington School of Law in 2003.

View all posts by Jill Dvorkin


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