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Publishers launch £1m bid to make local press public notices ‘fit for 21st century’

Henry Faure WalkerRegional publishers have united to launch a £1m project which aims to make public notices published in the local press “fit for the 21st century”.

The News Media Association, the trade body for the regional and national press, has announced the launch of a common online portal which will contain public notices published in print by regional and local newspapers across the UK.

The NMA says the Online Public Notices Portal, which has been funded by £1m from the Google News Initiative, will see public notices appear on the main pages of local news titles online and a dedicated standalone website.

The industry has also agreed to adopt new Public Notices Publishing Guidelines – a set of commitments to better publicise public notices.

The portal will be fully searchable by postcode, type of notice and keyword and, in addition to operating as a standalone site, will appear on around 800 local news sites.

It will also 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 – which the NMA says will boost public engagement with the notices.

The new guidelines, introduced as part of the project, will also see those signing up pledge to include regular editorial coverage in print and digital, and clearly signpost them in print.

The NMA says the move shows the industry’s “determination to work with local councils to improve engagement with public notices and make them fit for the 21st century”.

NMA chairman Henry Faure Walker, pictured, 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.

Ronan Harris, vice president and managing director of 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.