I have been working on an upcoming speech on government accountability, and I have been mulling over a seeming contradiction. In our public management courses here at SPEA, we stress the importance of transparency–and the reason for the First Amendment’s specific grant of freedom to the press/media. It stands to reason that journalists need to watch government officials and activities, investigate possible wrongdoing, and then report what they find to the voters. Journalists–whatever their warts–were considered essential to accountability, because they supplied the information needed to keep citizens informed and government agencies accountable.
Today, we have more information available than ever before–and less accountability. Why? I think it is because we have lost what Clay Shirkey has called “the journalism of verification.” Yes, there are mountains, oceans of information available to us. But we have no uniformly trusted source to verify its accuracy. Between the journalism of distraction–who slept with whom, how to groom your pet, who celebrity X is dating now, etc. etc.–and ‘news’ that is really just political propaganda, the sheer volume of sources competing for our eyes and ears has drowned out the news that is both verified and necessary to our ability to hold government accountable.
As Shirkey also noted, “the transformation of newspapers from enterprises devoted to objective reporting to a cluster of communities, each engaged in its own kind of ‘news’–and each with its own set of ‘truths’–will mean the loss of a single national narrative and agreed upon set of facts.” Daniel Moynahan famously said that we are all entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts. Evidently, he was wrong.
TMI–too much information. And much too much misinformation.