Snyder: Moore must veto bill to preserve local journalism


Rebecca Snyder is the executive director of the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association.

The members of the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association are deeply concerned about the potential consequences of Maryland House Bill 1258 on local journalism.

This bill, which is on the governor’s desk now, would upend the long-standing practice of publishing public notices in local newspapers and their associated websites, threatening the vitality of Maryland’s communities and the essential role of the press in fostering civic engagement and accountability.

We believe that HB 1258 will create a seismic change in the local media landscape that will decimate and potentially prompt the closure of local news outlets.

For decades, local news media has been at the core of their communities, providing critical information, facilitating public discourse and holding power to account. Though digital formats now supplement print publications, the watchdog role of news media has remained constant.

Public notices, a cornerstone of transparency and accountability in government through independent publication and a deep reach into local communities, have been a fundamental part of this ecosystem.

However, HB 1258 seeks to centralize estate notices on a government-operated website alone, effectively pulling critical information for creditors and heirs into a subject-specific website that requires a user to have reliable internet access and to know where to look for the information. It will also remove a vital revenue stream for local newspapers, jeopardizing the future of journalism in our state.

The ramifications of this legislation extend far beyond the newsroom. By undermining the financial viability of local newspapers, HB 1258 threatens the livelihoods of countless journalists, editors and other media professionals who work tirelessly to keep our communities informed.

Moreover, it potentially deprives readers of access to vital information about government proceedings and community events, thereby undermining civic engagement and transparency.

Cataclysmic change sounds dramatic. Local news, however, is on the precipice.

HB 1258 will abandon a system of public notice that has worked well for decades and eliminate a significant number of jobs in Maryland. Local news will go away if communities, governments and others do not support it.

Studies show that when a community loses its source of local news, it experiences decreased voter turnout and civic engagement; increased municipal borrowing costs that lead to higher taxes; and decreased transparency among government and business officials, leading to increased waste, fraud and abuse.

Proponents of HB 1258 argue that centralizing public notices on a government website will increase accessibility and efficiency for the state register of wills offices. However, this overlooks the reality that many residents, particularly in underserved communities, lack reliable internet access or the technological literacy to navigate online platforms effectively. Many pandemic-era subsidies that made broadband access affordable for Marylanders have been discontinued. Websites are hacked regularly, and government is not immune.

The print publication is a tangible, permanent record that is archived by publications and libraries, containing the records of an entire community. Having these notices appear only on a court website diminishes the independence of notice, as the agency placing the notice is the one that is publishing the notice.

News media is in the business of audience development and dissemination of information, and the traffic to both member websites and the aggregated site dwarfs a state website. Having notices in the context of other news and information that the public searches for makes notices more visible. That will not happen under this bill.

HB 1258 was drafted without input from the very stakeholders it stands to impact most profoundly: local newspapers and the communities they serve. The absence of robust debate and meaningful consultation during the legislative process is a disservice to the principles of democracy and good governance. At its core, HB 1258 represents a shortsighted approach to policymaking that prioritizes convenience over the public interest. By hastily dismantling a system that has served our communities well for decades, this bill threatens to irreparably harm the fabric of local journalism and the democratic values it upholds.

Our member publications are committed to their communities, employing local journalists and other professionals, occupying office space, contributing to the community and often serving as media sponsors and supporters of community events. All this will be drastically affected if HB 1258 becomes law. Those jobs won’t come back; some publications will not be able to stay in business. Sustaining a $1.7 million hit industrywide will surely mean smaller newsrooms and shoestring operations. Gov. Wes Moore, please stand for local news and veto HB 1258.

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