Of course our purpose here at NewsBusters is to shed light on the obscene bias often underlying what passes for journalism here in the United States (and in Canada and Europe sometimes, as well). We here at NB, however, want to stress that we aren't out to "destroy" journalism itself. We understand how important a free and open press is to keep our democratic republic on the straight and narrow. And, with this piece I'd like to present one reason why seeing journalists lose their jobs in such massive numbers should serve as a warning to us all about the health of our system.
Journalists have traditionally been antagonistic toward government, we all know. Certainly, they sometimes take this antipathy too far and become responsible for nearly treasonous actions -- The New York Times is the perfect example of that these days. But this antagonism is not all bad because while in practice it can and does lead to exposing the sort of government corruption that can and should be stopped but won't be unless it becomes public knowledge. The light that journalists shed on these corrupt government officials using open records requests is an integral part of our system and not one we should so blithely forget about while hoping to see the field of journalism get its comeuppance.
A recent little blog post by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a non-profit legal assistance agency for journalists (est. 1970), gives us a warning that we should all heed, which I repeat in it's entirety:Smaller news budgets, less ammunition for open records fights
Beset by newsroom cutbacks and declining revenue, news groups are fighting fewer battles over public records -- and government officials are getting hip to the trend, according to a panel of journalists at a National Press Club event in Denver this week.
Denver television reporter Brian Maass said that the government in the past understood the media would go to court if their requests were denied, according to a Press Club article. Now officials know media budgets are stretched thin, and a reporter's leverage in an open records dispute isn't what it was.
"There's less fight in the media to battle for information," Maass said, according to the Press Club. At the same time, Mark Cardwell, who is managing editor of the Denver Post, said newsrooms are supplementing their coverage with the work of “amateur journalists,” who go to events around town, like school board meetings, and then post the newsworthy bits on the paper's Web site.
This is a serious subject that, in our zeal to give the back of our hand to partisan journos, we should not easily dismiss. Open records requests are an important tool in keeping our government honest. And if less of this gets done because the news media has fewer resources to spend on such things, we will all be the poorer for it. Corruption will grow in our government as a result.
Now, to be sure, this is not something that only journalists can do. Bloggers can and should take up where big media is leaving off. You, I... any citizen... can file these open records requests. Among the records you can find are things such as the financial expenditures of your local school district, your town council, records on any construction projects being planned or undertaken by your local government, and many other such records.
As a blogger in your local area you absolutely should not leave to others the task of holding your local, county, or state government accountable. Not only that, but it can get you some BIG press yourself should you find some juicy corruption to write about.
There are several pages on the web to teach you how to file for open records requests. (Such as http://www.wikihow.com/File-an-Open-Records-Request-(USA)) Often your state or county will have a website set up to help you through the process, as well.
However, and here is where having the resources of a news agency backing you up is efficacious, sometimes these requests can cost quite a bit of time and money to fulfill. Why, you might ask? Because the costs of xeroxing these records are charged to the one making the request. It can cost quite a lot at times. Additionally, there are sometimes requirements that these requests be made in person at the city, county or state office that will do the search, often these records cannot be requested through the mail or the Internet.
Having a news agency behind you can certainly help defray costs and focus the investigation. (Here is a series of articles from 1999 by the Augusta Chronicle about open records laws in Georgia as an example of how a newspaper can succeed in this sort of investigation.)
So, here is why we need to be careful about wishing for the demise of the Old Media. As the old saying goes, be careful for what you wish.
(Image credit: http://sunshinereviewblog.com)