Sun­shine Week: Trans­parency in age of shad­ows

The Boyertown Area Times - - OPINION -

We live in dark times. Dark, that is, in terms of the flow of pub­lic in­for­ma­tion.

From the harsh ac­cu­sa­tion that re­ported news is “fake” to the sur­real phe­nom­e­non of Rus­sian troll farms, re­port­ing news is an ex­er­cise of deal­ing with shad­ows. Nowhere is this more true than in pol­i­tics and gov­ern­ment.

“The main events in a po­lit­i­cal cam­paign used to hap­pen in the open: a de­bate, the re­lease of a ma­jor TV ad or a pub­lic event where can­di­dates tried to earn a spot on the evening news or the next day’s front page,” wrote Ni­cholas Ric­cardi of The As­so­ci­ated Press in a re­port for this past week’s ob­ser­vance of Sun­shine Week.

“Now some of a cam­paign’s most piv­otal ef­forts hap­pen in the of­ten-murky world of so­cial me­dia, where ads can be tar­geted to ever-nar­rower slices of the elec­torate and run con­tin­u­ously with no dis­clo­sure of who is pay­ing for them. Re­porters can­not eas­ily dis­cern what vot­ers are see­ing, and hoaxes and forg­eries spread in­stan­ta­neously,” Ric­cardi wrote.

Both as a can­di­date and as pres­i­dent, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has taken con­trol of his own news pro­nounce­ments, post­ing on Twit­ter, reach­ing mil­lions of fol­low­ers with­out the ques­tions, chal­lenges or fact-checks that re­porters pro­vide.

But while Trump is the most ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple, the ef­fects of so­cial me­dia and al­ter­na­tive news sources reach to the lo­cal level.

In­for­ma­tion and opin­ions are “shared” among Face­book friends and Twit­ter fol­low­ers of like minds, with­out the bal­ance that a news-gath­er­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion can pro­vide.

“The prob­lem is some­thing that’s al­ways ex­isted ... but so­cial me­dia is a dif­fer­ent an­i­mal than news dis­tri­bu­tion in the past,” noted Gar­lin Gilchrist, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Cen­ter for So­cial Me­dia Re­spon­si­bil­ity at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan, in the AP re­port.

Sun­shine Week was started in 2005 by the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of News­pa­per Edi­tors to pro­mote ef­forts for open gov­ern­ment and pub­lic ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion.

In years past, re­porters at news­pa­pers like this one vis­ited police de­part­ments or town­ship build­ings to re­quest as ci­ti­zens pub­lic doc­u­ments or meet­ing min­utes. Re­sults were doc­u­mented to demon­strate if the right-to-know and pub­lic ac­cess laws are work­ing.

This year’s Sun­shine Week ob­ser­vance has fo­cused more on a hard look at the dan­gers fac­ing the free flow of in­for­ma­tion. These in­clude ma­nip­u­la­tion by for­eign gov­ern­ment and fringe po­lit­i­cal groups us­ing so­cial me­dia and web­sites as their fo­rums of false­hood and hate.

On a na­tional level, much of the re­port­ing dur­ing Sun­shine Week March 11-17 high­lighted the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s poli­cies that turn back progress on the free flow of in­for­ma­tion. An AP anal­y­sis widely re­ported this week showed that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment cen­sored or with­held pub­lic records more of­ten dur­ing the past year than in the pre­vi­ous 10 years.

And while the free flow of in­for­ma­tion to le­git­i­mate news sources is cur­tailed, ru­mors and false­hoods on the web and so­cial me­dia can spread and grow. What to do? Who to trust? In an ex­per­i­ment re­ported just be­fore the start of Sun­shine Week, New York Times tech­nol­ogy writer Farhad Man­joo made a con­scious and de­ter­mined ef­fort to get all news from print news­pa­pers for two months. He turned off dig­i­tal news no­ti­fi­ca­tions, un­plugged from so­cial net­works and sub­scribed to home de­liv­ery of three news­pa­pers.

He wrote that the ex­per­i­ment was “life-chang­ing” with fewer dis­trac­tions, more in­depth un­der­stand­ing of events and is­sues, and more time in his day.

“You re­al­ize how much of what you get on­line isn’t quite news, and more like a nev­erend­ing stream of commentary, one that does more to dis­tort your un­der­stand­ing of the world than il­lu­mi­nate it,” he wrote.

Man­joo’s ex­per­i­ment has a mes­sage rel­e­vant to Sun­shine Week.

In this age of shadow in­for­ma­tion, news con­sumers have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to seek out trans­parency from wher­ever news and in­for­ma­tion flows. Your choice may be print or it may be dig­i­tal, but be mind­ful of its source.

Sun­shine Week is set aside for jour­nal­ists to seek trans­parency in gov­ern­ment; in turn jour­nal­ists vow to be ac­cu­rate and trans­par­ent in their re­port­ing.

We ask that you honor that com­mit­ment with the choices you make in get­ting the news.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.