The Society of Editors (SoE) has welcomed news of an initiative between Google and the regional media to underpin the importance of local news as a source for public notices.
It was announced today (January 14, 2021) the local news media sector has come together to launch an industry digital portal to further promote public notices to communities and enhance local democracy by harnessing their massive online audiences.
Funded by £1 million from the Google News Initiative, the project will see the creation of a common online portal containing public notices published in print by regional and local newspapers across the UK.
Ian Murray, executive director of the SoE, said: “There is no better way to ensure the public has easy access to vital information contained in public notices than to continue the requirement that they be carried in local media publications and on their websites. Alternatives such as carrying them only on local government websites just will not fulfil the aims of keeping communities informed.
“The initiative between the local media and Google is brilliant news and ensures that the regional press can enhance further its vital role in ensuring the public’s right to know what is being done in their area and in their name.”
The project will see public notices surfaced on the main pages of local news websites, further enhancing people’s access to and understanding of important information about planning, construction, transport links, roadworks, licensing changes and the like in their local area.
The Online Public Notices Portal will be fully searchable by postcode, type of notice and keyword and, in addition to operating as a standalone site, will operate as a vertical within around 800 local news media websites right across the country.
The portal will deliver notifications for users who have signed up to receive alerts about particular types of planning notices, or notices relating to a specific geographic area – boosting public engagement with the notices.
The local news media sector has also agreed to adopt new Public Notices Publishing Guidelines – a set of commitments to better publicise public notices; including regular editorial coverage in print and digital, and clear signposting in paper.
The announcement of the industry-wide portal and publishing guidelines demonstrates a further commitment from local publishers in their essential role of keeping local people properly informed, and a determination to work with local councils to improve engagement with public notices and make them fit for the 21st century.
News Media Association chairman Henry Faure Walker said: “The new initiatives announced today will significantly boost the visibility of public notices by harnessing local news media’s massive online reach and highly trusted relationship with local communities. “This will deliver value for the public and further strengthen democracy at a local level – a key function of local news media.
“As the industry works together to deliver these initiatives over the coming months, it is absolutely essential that Government commits to keeping the partnership between local news media and local councils strong by retaining the statutory requirement for local authorities to publish planning notices in local newspapers in print.
“Whilst we continue to innovate digitally, we must also remember that there are still many people for whom online is not their preference, and they must not be disenfranchised.”
As well as providing Google News Initiative funding for the project, a Google user experience expert will sit on the steering committee to advise on technical solutions for development of the public notices platform.
Google’s technical advice will help ensure that the public notices project can reach as many people as possible.
The project is the latest collaboration between the UK news media industry and the Google News Initiative which has included initiatives in recent years such as Laudable (Reach plc and JPI Media), the Community Content Network (Newsquest Media Group), RADAR (PA Media Group), and the Journalism Skills Academy (NCTJ).
Ronan Harris, VP &MD, Google UK & Ireland, said: “Over the last few months we’ve all been reminded again about the importance of local news in connecting us to our communities. Alongside the news industry, the Government and local readers, we want to play our part in enabling a sustainable future for local journalism.
“Building on 20 years of work we have done in supporting the news industry, this project is an innovative new approach to ensure sustainable funding for local publishers and bring people the vital local information they need.”
A steering group of local publishers has been tasked with appointing a development partner for the Online Public Notices Portal and overseeing its delivery.
The plan will see the launch of a beta version of the portal in the summer 2021.