Some Citizens are More Equal Than Others – Open Item
Our Open Item today is going to take a different tone… we normally try to give you an overview of what news items broke over the evening, link to items that are worth your attention or highlight something funny or interesting that has a tie to Indiana. Today I’m going to get on a soap box and share my frustrations with our readers. As always, you’re welcome to agree or disagree – we’ve had a healthy debate going between members of our community in the comments section and we want to encourage everyone to keep the discussion going.
Over a week has passed since Hoosier Access Editor Derek Trovilion submitted a public records request to Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz’s office with no response more than a simple confirmation that we’ve made the request. Now if you refer to the documents we shared with you when we broke the story from the moment Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco clarified his written request for the public records Indiana Department of Education Staff Attorney Katie Williams-Briles took less than five business days to confirm the request. The confirmation of the request was sent to LoBianco at 1:41 pm and LoBianco was posting links to the emails on Twitter at 2:38 pm (see below)
— Tom LoBianco (@tomlobianco) July 29, 2013
Now, keep in mind that William-Briles first denied that such a request existed when a citizen subsequently made a public records request asking how LoBianco obtained the emails in the first place before revealing a month-long trail of correspondence between her and LoBianco. Trovilion has made a specific request for documents and information that should be readily available, but we’ve waited for over a week with no statement. When LoBianco asks for specific emails not only does he get them within a week, but within minutes of his modified request getting confirmed!
I went to college to study journalism and even served as president of our college’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. I learned two basic lessons from the journalists I had had the privilege to learn from at The George Washington University and work with at SPJ – 1) sunlight is incredibly important for government accountability and 2) journalists should avoid making themselves a part of the story if they want to be taken seriously.
Our blog isn’t accepted as a traditional source of journalism. In fairness I accept that judgement – we work hard to add value and perspective to what we see in the news, but as a volunteer organization we have neither the resources nor the capacity to break news or directly compete with the full-time media outlets that cover policy and politics in Indiana. My disappointment rests with the journalism community for their failure to hold either Ritz’s office or one of their own accountable for how this story has been handled.
The journalism community in Indiana has celebrated the release of public records and with good reason. While from personal experience I can tell you that the written record only tells you one aspect of the story as to how policy is developed, it is still a valuable accountability tool. The problem is that accountability belongs to all Hoosiers, not just the press. They seem to have forgotten that fact, or they don’t care about it and neither of those answers is acceptable.
I hope to have more information to share with you once the Department of Education gets around to responding to our request. I look forward to someone attempting to hold a public employee accountable for a documented attempt to deceive the public. Ultimately I hope that the press will celebrate the introduction of more sunlight on how this story developed and have the courage to take a stand, even if it means they might upset a colleague.
As always we welcome your views and I understand you may not feel the same as I do. You may think that I’m just trying to push an agenda, and if fairness, I am… I’m trying to push an agenda that anyone who wants to view records that should be public can do so. We’re covering this story because no one else did, plain and simple. Either way, share your thoughts – we’re not going to censor your opinion, we just want to have a conversation.