How poor customer service can lead to fewer public notices
From The Public Notice Resource Center
When the Air Quality Division of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) announced a proposal last year to move all of its public notice advertising from newspapers to its own website, its motivation for doing so was clear: Bureaucratic efficiency.
“(IDEM's) proposal never even bothers to claim e-notice will reach more Indiana citizens,” PNRC noted in the comments we filed opposing the plan. “It focuses instead on cost, convenience and expedience. Those are all worthy goals. Unfortunately, none are the primary purpose of public notice laws.”
Nevertheless, the state’s Environmental Rules Board (ERB) voted unanimously last month to authorize IDEM to end the practice of publishing notice of air quality permit-application hearings in local newspapers. The ERB sanctioned the proposal to move the notices to IDEM’s sleepy website even though the agency received more than 600 comments opposing the plan and only four in favor of it, according to the Hoosier State Press Association (HSPA).
At bottom, this appears to be a story about a client that spurned an advertising channel as a result of poor customer service. HSPA Executive Director Steve Key said the IDEM representative who testified at a public hearing on the proposal raised the following issues the agency grappled with in placing public notices in Indiana newspapers:
- No phone number readily available to resolve problems;
- Unreasonable deadlines (e.g., 14 days prior to publication at one newspaper);
- Mistaken credit holds; and
- Missed publication dates and failure to publish some notices
HSPA offered to help IDEM -- it already runs a placement service for the state's Alcohol & Tobacco Commission -- but the agency didn't accept the press association’s offer.
“IDEM staff wants to eliminate publication because newspapers can be work, while hitting a button so the notice is posted is a relative piece of cake,” Key said.
This is the second straight month we've written about customer service issues as a threat to the newspaper industry's traditional role as providers of public notice. Last month in South Dakota the state’s Public Utilities Commission had to cancel a meeting and a wind-power company was forced to refile a project application because a newspaper failed, for the second time, to publish a notice. "There's been another instance of a South Dakota newspaper failing to timely publish a legal notice about a public meeting," is how a local broadcast news organization reported the incident.
Most papers do public notice right. But clearly there are at least a few that treat it as an entitlement and fail to provide their public notice customers with the service they deserve. Those papers are a grave threat to the newspaper industry's historical franchise.