Thursday, October 27, 2005

Eyes on government

One of the problems with small-market journalism is the lack of resources. Often a newspaper or broadcast outlet doesn't have the personnel (or the money for overtime pay) to cover local government the way it should. All too often, a reporter will just listen to a recording of the meetings or read over the minutes -- or even worse, just ask an official over the phone if anything newsworthy happened at the meeting that time.

Not only is this lazy, sloppy journalism, but it allows the city commission or school board to dictate the news coverage. In the end, the officials benefit by being allowed to operate in the dark and the public loses out.

When reporters don't show up to let taxpayers know what their elected officials are doing, those officials tend to take actions that their constituents might not like, such as awarding contracts to their political supporters or appointing their cronies to influential boards or committees. By the time the story appears in the newspaper (if at all) it's too late; the damage has been done, and the only ones who know or care about it are the cranky retirees who sat through the whole meeting.

But you don't have to be on a fixed income to worry about how your tax money gets spent. The University of Texas-Brownsville recently started a program called Students for Public Awareness. Students in this project plan to attend local school board and city commission meetings and report on them over the Internet. According to the group's website:

The Communication Council, a student organization at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, will produce regular community-based electronic newsletters and web casts that will report on these various boards and commissions. Our purpose is not to editorialize, but rather to report and allow the community to decide. We are calling this effort the Students for Public Awareness.

They plan to "report news in an unbiased and timely matter" -- something that will benefit the whole community. Good luck, folks.


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