By Joey Young, Kansas Publishing Ventures · May 20, 2020
This Opinion was originally published in the Kansas Press Association's May 2020 newsletter. It has been edited to reflect Column's new company name.
A while back, as a board, we sat around the large meeting table in the basement of the now-sold Kansas Press Association office and had a serious discussion about legal notices.
We concluded that while it would likely not come by our own hands or due to lack of trying, we would eventually lose legal notices in Kansas newspapers at some point in the near future. It was simply a matter of time.
That is, if we didn’t do something to change the landscape of the battle. When you see a loss in the future, you can prolong the battle and know you are going to lose anyway, or you can do something new that will add a wrinkle into the fight, hopefully putting you on the winning path.
In came some Harvard-schooled “Super Nerds” (I say that with absolute affection. My best friend is a part of our company and is our own Super Nerd) who have a newspaper background and have a plan to help: Column.
Sure, there were reasons to be skeptical, but there were plenty of reasons to hear them out, too. The new technology sounded good and had potential to do just what we wanted and give us a secret weapon in the fight to keep legal notices.
After hearing them out, talking with the Column Team, and personally committing to working with them, I am happy to say I think we have the tools to make government officials happy and off our backs for a while.
It will take time for folks to adopt this new way of publishing legal notices, but once everyone comes online and sees the light, the faster we can show the doubters at the Kansas Statehouse that legal notice has never been easier and it is consistently more accurate than the previous process.
There have always been key arguments against newspapers in the legal notice battle, and while cost is always at the top of the list, one of the toughest ones to hear is poor customer service and mistakes from re-typing.
Column solves the latter two issues with ease. There are no issues with customer service, because the customer is in absolute control of the notice with a Google Forms style entry process that makes it so simple my grandmother could do it.
Because the notice is generated by the program from the data put into the program, there are no issues with re-typing and having a minor mistake screw up something as important as a bond election.
If these issues are solved, we won’t have school board members and city council members calling their state legislator, complaining about something being delayed because the damn newspaper couldn’t get their legal notice in right. If the only complaint is cost, that is incredibly easy to defend and win at the state level, so long as the few bad actors in our industry don’t continue to overcharge.
The program has cut out the painful arts and crafts projects all of us were doing; in addition, it’s gotten affidavits to customers faster without as much staff time dedicated. The program is a win-win — both for newspapers and legal notice customers.
We continue to be the best place for the public to see legal notices, as we are a third party whose business model hinges on keeping the public informed. This makes things much easier for us as newspapers.
It’s also a huge win for customers, as they can go to bed at night without worry that someone is going to rekey something and screw up a longstanding project for them. The wording of the legal notice is in their hands, and the program generates it so it works for them. There is no downside.
I know I am just some dumb kid who happens to own a few newspapers, but I highly encourage you to give Jake Seaton a call at Column and schedule a time to do a walk-through of the program.
I think you will be impressed. Our person who handles legal notices has thrown some fairly significant things at Jake and his team, and they have always handled it quickly and to our satisfaction.
For years, Harvard-educated Super Nerds have taken our market share and hurt our industry.
For once, we have someone in our corner, and they want to help.
You should let them.
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