INDIANAPOLIS — An environmental group and Indiana's newspaper association criticized a state agency's plans to stop publishing newspaper notices on public hearings about proposed air quality policy changes, saying the shift will inevitably leave some residents in the dark about policies that could impact their health.
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Agency spokeswoman Amy Hartsock said Friday that eliminating the newspaper notices will shift IDEM entirely to informing the public about the hearings through its existing email notifications, notices posted on its website and postcards mailed to people who sign up to get information that way.
Dropping the newspaper notices will save Indiana about $7,500 each year, but Hartsock said that wasn't the agency's motive. She said IDEM wanted to decrease the time needed to alert the public about hearings, speed up the process of finalizing policy actions and reduce agency resources devoted to placing the newspaper notices and verifying that they had been published.
"The costs savings are a benefit but not the original goal," Hartsock said.
Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, said the group that represents about 165 of Indiana's paid circulation newspaper believes IDEM's decision was "well-meaning" but believes the end result will be that some people will be shut out of public policy discussions.
He said dropping the advertisements will largely limit participation to regulated industries and public advocacy organizations, such as environmental groups.
"What they've done, from our perspective, is they've gone from public notices to special interest notices," Key said. "Those are going to be the only people who are going to really know to check the IDEM website on a regular basis or who've signed up" for electronic notices.
Not because I think this will reduce the citizenry's knowledge or participation or in any other way constitute bad public policy. Because this is one more piece of bad news for newspapers.
It's true that "not everybody" has email or Internet access, but come on; how do you think that compares with the number of people who read the tiny classified ads about public meetings in the back of community newspapers? I appreciate Key's point about "public notices" and "spcial interest notices," but the truth is that only the special interests pay attention to the goings on at government agencies like IDEM. It's the rare "average citizen" who gets all hot and bothered and finally decides to go to a meeting.
As has always been the case, the "press," which now includes people like bloggers and webpage producers, will let the general public know when something important is likely to happen at a hearing. And when it's a not-so-vital meeting, the people who most want to know (and have therefore signed up for email notification) will be the ones who do know. It's much more efficient and useful to narrowly tailor your message than to broadcast it to everybody. Where have we heard that before?