- Police Beat
- The Forecaster
News consumers in the age of Trump can’t help but notice the disturbing conjoining of journalism and government.
Alleged leaks – the FBI tipping off CNN to an upcoming raid, or Democrat congressional aides distributing documents to the media before giving them to Republicans – prove how government officials and journalists secretly rely on each other to further their own aims.
Conservatives have long recognized mainstream media’s bias, but these journalists’ opposition to Trump and knee-jerk support of anything Democrats propose has revealed this fact to all Americans.
However, there’s always a way out of the darkness in America, whose foundational principles of free speech and a free press give us hope that even when some actors in government and journalism are too cozy for comfort, something eventually will clean up their act.
Every year around the time we spring forward and welcome more light into our lives, the media world marks Sunshine Week. It’s a chance for news outlets to remind everyone of the importance of open government, and that most everything government officials do – even their email – is available upon request.
Sunshine Week, held March 10-16 this year and begun by the American Society of News Editors in 2005, seems even more important now because, as we’re seeing especially on a national scale, secretive plotting behind the scenes is corrupting both government and journalism. As such, detoxifying sunshine should be shed on journalism, not just government, this Sunshine Week.
As our national media devolves into tribal factions with conservative and liberal biases on full display, local news outlets are proving their worth as go-to sources of relatively unbiased news. Why? It’s because they are closer to – and, as such, more accountable – to their readers and viewers.
Just as there are three levels of representative government – local (town or city), regional (county or state) and federal – there are three levels of journalism: local, regional and national. The smaller the institution, whether it be government or news outlets, the more accountable it is.
Just as it’s nearly impossible to talk directly with President Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Sens. Angus King or Susan Collins if you have a federal government issue, you can’t call and talk to the editors of national media outlets such as The New York Times or NBC Nightly News. At best, you’ll reach an aide giving you a polite goodbye the minute after you called. National-level institutions are out of reach. State- and regional-level institutions aren’t much better.
Compare that to local government and news outlets where you can directly talk to a town councilor, town manager, reporter or editor at the hometown newspaper. Local officials and local journalists can’t hide from their constituents and readers.
When it comes to transparency in government, local is better. This is why conservatives don’t want a world government or too much federal control. The bigger the government institution, the more corrupt it can become.
Same with journalism. While a national reporter may get away with issue advocacy, fudging details, omitting facts or writing to a biased narrative, local reporters can’t because they must face their sources and readers on a regular basis. They’ll be found out and corrected, sometimes humiliatingly so.
Despite the inherent advantages of smaller government and smaller journalism, unfortunately we’re seeing a trend toward bigger. But just as service after the sale is why many shop locally, remember this Sunshine Week that local is almost always better for news and government for reasons of accountability.
John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.