Information is only useful if someone knows it

Here at the Coastal Point, we’re in the information business. Our job is to bring information to you in a timely, clear, accurate and fair manner. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t know everything, and sometimes we’re reliant on government, or the public, to keep us informed about what’s going on, just like you are. Still, because it’s our job to do that work, we’re often the first to find out about something.

That was the case back in early 2009, when we first mentioned a pending hearing for an AT&T communications tower near Bethany Beach in our Agenda section. Few people noticed it, and by the time the hearing was nearly upon us, our preview story for the hearing delivered some shocking news.

That shouldn’t happen. It just simply should not happen. But it does happen. Time and time again. Whether people just aren’t paying attention or whether government fails to deliver on the idea of transparency, or whether the moon was just at that certain point in the sky where things didn’t line up, it happens.

However, astonomy aside, we as journalists, and government as the people we elect and pay to represent and serve us, have a reponsiblity to the public to make sure that the cards are on the table, that people understand what is happening or will happen, and that they get a chance to have their voices heard in this wonderful system we call representative democracy.
“Write your Congressman,” they tell us. “Send a letter to the editor.” That’s all fine and good, but it doesn’t do much good at all when you don’t even know about an issue because you weren’t notified or if you can’t prepare an adequate case because you found out too late.

Perhaps it’s naive, but you should be able to trust government to have the public’s best interests at heart, and sometimes it seems more likely that government is trying to hide what it doesn’t want seen in the back of an out-of-area newspaper than that it is freely sharing information with the public and the media who report upon it.

And that has to stop. Sunshine laws, Freedom of Information Act requests, determined citizens and hard-working investigative journalists have done much to bring the workings of our government out into the open, but their efforts should be accompanied by those in government to make sure that the public knows what it needs to know, what they would want to know if they as individuals were the ones being impacted.

That, elected officials, government workers, is your charge. It may not be in your job description, but it is a concrete element of being a responsible person in government. Be that person.