Public Notice

Public notices in newspapers are part of the three-legged stool of government accountability. Public notices help to inform the public on activities by the government and other public entities. Public notices have been included in newspapers from the beginning of the Republic. Now they are also on many newspapers’ websites.

A valid public notice should have four key elements:

  • It should be published in a medium independent of the government or other entity compelled to provide notice.
  • It should be verifiable so that citizens can satisfy themselves that notice was properly given. An affidavit from the newspaper attesting to the type and date of publication is the typical verification, and these are often used in litigation to demonstrate that due process requirements were met.
  • It should be archivable so that future generations can retrieve it.
  • It should be accessible to a broad range of people. Surveys demonstrate that a wide majority of citizens believe public notices should be in newspapers.


Public notice resources

The public notices in most newspapers appear in the classified section. In some states, that is because state law considers them classified ads. In others, it's simply tradition. They've been there for all of our lives. Lewis and Clark used public notices. Most state constitutions were drawn up with the help of public notices.

National Newspaper Association joins request for openness at US Supreme Court

January 1, 2020

National Newspaper Association has joined the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, National Public Radio and 50 other media organizations to urge the U.S. Supreme Court to put tighter limits on sealed court records. 

In a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts this week, the organizations pointed out a dramatic increase in the Court’s approving requests to seal documents before the Court, which rose from an average of 22 each year from 2011 to 2016 to 46 in 2018. Sealed records were rare in the 20th century and in the first part of the 21st century averaged only 10 per year, the media groups said. 

Poor customer service sabotages newspaper notice in Indiana

December 27, 2018

When the Air Quality Division of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management 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.

How newspaper notice is supposed to work

October 22, 2018

When the Board of Elections in majority-black Randolph County, GA, introduced a proposal this summer to close seven of the county’s nine polling places, many residents were angry. Some even accused the board of trying to hide the proposal.

Unclaimed property public notice under attack

August 30, 2018

Q Is there still a public notice in newspapers for unclaimed property?

Lockwood elevates the art of public notice journalism

May 4, 2018

Examining the public notice display in newspapers, their tombstone layout and dry legalese might not appear to be riveting journalism. But scratch beneath the surface and you might find a treasure trove of great stories.

Small West Virginia town has a secrecy habit

May 4, 2018

If a contest was held for the least transparent city government in the U.S., the small town of Williamson, WV, would have to be considered a strong contender.

MI reporter wins public notice journalism award

April 9, 2018

Garret Ellison, a reporter for MLive and The Grand Rapids Press, was named winner of the Public Notice Resource Center’s 2018 Public Notice Journalism Award.

Public officials dismissed over notice issues

December 28, 2017

The failure to publish proper notice is rarely punished, so it was surprising to see local officials in Maine and Illinois recently relieved of their positions as a result of breakdowns in the public notice process. The sacked officials compounded their problems with other missteps, but notice issues were at the center of both dismissals.

More newspapers should do this

October 16, 2017

NC governor’s veto stands

September 13, 2017

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bad public notice bill is safe for now.

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