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Cuts at newspapers, cuts in access to information

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  1. Freedom of Information
In a Sunday Washington Post column,  David Simon -- the former Baltimore Sun police reporter and creator of HBO’s acclaimed police drama The Wire…

In a Sunday Washington Post column,  David Simon — the former Baltimore Sun police reporter and creator of HBO’s acclaimed police drama The Wire — argues that as more newspapers make cuts or close their doors, a lack of access to information and acceptance of the official line will become that much more common.

Simon, though no longer a police reporter, decided to do some digging when he says a police shooting of an unarmed 61-year-old man was barely mentioned in The Sun. When he was a reporter, information about such shootings was made public. When he asked for information about the shooting this time, the request was denied. And he says the Sun has become so decimated, reporters there apparently didn’t even try to report the story.

“There is a lot of talk nowadays about what will replace the dinosaur that is the daily newspaper. So-called citizen journalists and bloggers and media pundits have lined up to tell us that newspapers are dying but that the news business will endure, that this moment is less tragic than it is transformational,” Simon wrote.

“Well, sorry, but I didn’t trip over any blogger trying to find out” a police officer’s “identity and performance history. Nor were any citizen journalists at the City Council hearing in January when police officials inflated the nature and severity of the threats against officers. And there wasn’t anyone working sources in the police department to counterbalance all of the spin or omission,” Simon concluded.

The public, as Simon points out, doesn’t and can’t always demand information from the government, and it can’t as effectively ensure open government laws are followed. 

But when reporters can’t do it either, it’s the public that loses out. It’s the public’s right to information that is curtailed when reporters can’t challenge police withholdings of documents. It’s the public that can’t hold accountable the employees that work on behalf of taxpayers — here, police officers who discharge their weapon at others.