Town Manager Scott Tucker said the measure could “assist the town in making notice and maybe save us a bit of money.” Board members seemed poised to approve the letter of support without further discussion until Deerfield Valley News publisher and Vermont Press Association board member Randy Capitani spoke up, urging the board to reconsider their support, calling the bill flawed. “I’ll be honest,” he said. “We make money on legal notices, but it’s a service and towns have to pay for a number of services. But S.97 has a lot of flaws.”
Capitani said one of the flaws was that of internet access. “There are a lot of places in Vermont that can’t get good online access,” he said. “I think Wilmington is covered pretty well, but there are places in Wardsboro, Readsboro, and Whitingham where people don’t have access.”
“We have some pockets in Wilmington, too,” said board chair Tom Fitzgerald.
But Capitani said one of the bill’s biggest flaws is that it doesn’t address the issue of archiving, and defines online news media too vaguely. “If legal notices are only digital, how do you know where it’s going to be in five years?” he said. “How do you know you’ll be able to go back to that website and find your legal notices?”
Print newspapers are archived in several locations, Capitani said, including on microfilm at the state, by some libraries, and by newspaper publishers. Websites, he said, are not necessarily archived, and even electronic publishers’ backup devices have changed dramatically over the last few years. “If you want to look up a legal notice from 20 years ago, you can come down to The Deerfield Valley News and it’s right here in this book,” he said, tapping a hardbound volume of back issues. “Every legal ad in The Deerfield Valley News is also posted on our website, but our website has had three different vendors in the last 20 years. For the first two vendors, we can’t go back and find any archives. Even our own internal backups have changed so much I don’t have a machine that can read them all.”
The bill does require that electronic media maintain a searchable online database of legal notices, but doesn’t include any provision for maintaining it in perpetuity.
“How long will it be searchable?” Capitani asked. “What happens if an online provider goes out of business? Will it be there in 10, 15 or 20 years?”
Capitani said the situation may change in the future, but now is not the time to switch to online-only legal notices.
“There will be a time when this will work, and online news can be archived in a central location,” he said. “You can go back to a newspaper from 100 years ago and see what’s in it. I’m not confident that’s going to be there with digital content. There’s plenty of evidence this is not the right bill.”
Fitzgerald asked if the Vermont Press Association had been consulted by the authors of the bill.
“No,” Capitani said, “But we’d like to sit down with the VLCT and legislators to see if we can come up with something that works for everyone.”