Laziness No Excuse for Failing to Hold Officials Accountable

Article excerpt

Stop accepting denials for public information and exercise your rights to obtain it.

Use it or lose it.

That's the advice you often hear about federal and state access laws. When access isn't exercised, it's easily taken away

So true. And so sad.

Do we fail to call out the liars in government? Do we fail to hold our ground on public property? Do we bend to the will of bullying attorneys? If you answer yes to any of those questions, you should be selling shoes. I mean it Look to the prospects of a mindless job with a 7.5-hour day Take a leisurely lunch hour. Watch the squirrels play in the park Hang out at the mall eating pretzels.

I have no patience for reporters and editors who say they don't have the time to pursue public records on a daily deadline. No respect for those who don't follow through after a daily deadline dissolves into tomorrow.

Telling the public the truth, unvarnished and without editorial comment, is what it's all about.

You can't do that by listening to a "government spokesperson" one whose primary job responsibility is to filter information instead of giving you direct access to the data you seek.

But it isn't easy changing that mindset in a newsroom. I recently became an editor and told my small crew: "No flacks. No public relations people. No spokes-types of any human form will appear in your stories" It's not as problematic as it sounds. The governor has more than just one press secretary. The governor has executive assistants, a lawyer, a chief of staff, and others directly responsible for policy. Call `em.

Agency heads need to answer direct questions. School superintendents should be called at home. The mayor has a beeper. Homicide detectives can be hit on their police radios through central dispatchers.

We've become a nation of lazy journalists, finding convenience through expediency. Avoiding contact with the critical people who should be held accountable in print inches and in videotaped minutes. It doesn't make your job tougher to take that extra step. It makes your stories richer and more meaningful. How do you do it? …