Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


The Idea Mill: Facts As An Endangered Species

The Idea Mill: Facts As An Endangered Species

By Editor Sam Smith

One of the characteristics of government at every level is how much harder it has become to get basic facts. Washington, DC, for many years had an annual report called Indices that was jammed with factual information about what was happening in the city. After the federal government put the city into a form of colonial receivership and a purportedly reform administration was named, the book became one of the first things to disappear.

At the other end are the well documented assaults on public information by the Bush administration. While there is much variation in between, it remains true that many aspects of governance are becoming conveniently complicated and obscured so that no one - including the media - really know what's going on.

Here's one example: once you could tell what a city was doing in the housing field by how much public housing there was. Now the number and complexity of subsidies is enormous and no one really knows what is happening. As a result it doesn't get reported.

What if you had a generally accepted standard developed my reporters and public interest groups that defined just what information people deserved to know about housing? It might include

- Number of public housing units

- Number of subsidized housing units identified by name of subsidy, average percent of cost subsidized and number of units

- Number of subsidized housing units provided by non-profit groups identified average percent of cost subsidized, and number of units

- Distribution of subsidized units by ward or other subdivision

- Number of persons on waiting list for subsidized or public housing.

- Average length of wait

- Number of persons in city who can't afford the median rent

- Ten year trend in all of the above.

At first the standards could be put forth by a group like the Society of Professional Journalists or a consortium of journalism schools or public interest groups. It could be initially done at the local, state or national level. It would not be long, I suspect, before you would find candidates for mayor, governor and even president bragging that they observe these standards.

There could also be annual ratings of these governments as to how well they are doing.

One journalist - formerly with Jack Anderson - wrote me:


I think this is an incredible idea. As an old journalist who came up through the ranks covering City Hall, the County Commission, the School Board, the police, etc., etc. I am perpetually stunned by the total lack of information the local newspaper provides these days about where public funds are going. (and even more stunned at the total passivity of the readers) This kind of "open government" reporting used to be routine, and started to be obfuscated (I believe) in the Reagan years. Now it's gotten so murky that none of the young journalists even know what real reporting actually looks like. . . I think it's really about returning to what the original standard of openness in a democratic society started out to be and continued to be for two centuries. It's really only in the last few decades that it's fallen by the wayside, in my opinion. I think that your idea of getting urban journalists together to compile a list of essential facts every city should provide its citizens would be a fabulous reminder to every community of what the relationship between the local government and the community is supposed to be. Such a dialogue would then naturally become an issue in all campaigns.



Since 1964, Washington's most unofficial source
1312 18th St. NW #502 Washington DC 20036
202-835-0770 Fax: 835-0779

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Julian Assange: A Thousand Days In Belmarsh
Julian Assange has now been in the maximum-security facilities of Belmarsh prison for over 1,000 days. On the occasion of his 1,000th day of imprisonment, campaigners, supporters and kindred spirits gathered to show their support, indignation and solidarity at this political detention most foul... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: The Mauling Of Novak Djokovic
Rarely can the treatment of a grand sporting figure by officialdom have caused such consternation. Novak Djokovic, the tennis World Number One, has always had a tendency to get under skin and constitution, creating a large following of admirers and detractors. But his current treatment by Australian authorities, and his subsequent detention as an unlawful arrival despite being granted a visa to participate in the Australian Open, had the hallmarks of oppression and incompetent vulgarity... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Voices Of Concern: Aussies For Assange’s Return

With Julian Assange now fighting the next stage of efforts to extradite him to the United States to face 18 charges, 17 of which are based on the brutal, archaic Espionage Act, some Australian politicians have found their voice. It might be said that a few have even found their conscience... More>>

Forbidden Parties: Boris Johnson’s Law On Illegal Covid Gatherings

It was meant to be time to reflect. The eager arms of a new pandemic were enfolding a society with asphyxiating, lethal effect. Public health authorities advocated various measures: social distancing, limited contact between family and friends, limited mobility. No grand booze-ups. No large parties. No bonking, except within dispensations of intimacy and various “bubble” arrangements. Certainly, no orgies... More>>

Dunne Speaks: Question Time Is Anything But
The focus placed on the first couple of Question Time exchanges between the new leader of the National Party and the Prime Minister will have seemed excessive to many but the most seasoned Parliamentary observers. Most people, especially those outside the Wellington beltway, imagine Question Time is exactly what it sounds... More>>

Gasbagging In Glasgow: COP26 And Phasing Down Coal

Words can provide sharp traps, fettering language and caging definitions. They can also speak to freedom of action and permissiveness. At COP26, that permissiveness was all the more present in the haggling ahead of what would become the Glasgow Climate Pact... More>>