I have been working on an upcoming speech on government accountability, and I have been mulling over a seeming contradiction. In our public management courses here at SPEA, we stress the importance of transparency–and the reason for the First Amendment’s specific grant of freedom to the press/media. It stands to reason that journalists need to watch government officials and activities, investigate possible wrongdoing, and then report what they find to the voters. Journalists–whatever their warts–were considered essential to accountability, because they supplied the information needed to keep citizens informed and government agencies accountable.

Today, we have more information available than ever before–and less accountability. Why? I think it is because we have lost what Clay Shirkey has called “the journalism of verification.” Yes, there are mountains, oceans of information available to us. But we have no uniformly trusted source to verify its accuracy. Between the journalism of distraction–who slept with whom, how to groom your pet, who celebrity X is dating now, etc. etc.–and ‘news’ that is really just political propaganda, the sheer volume of sources competing for our eyes and ears has drowned out the news that is both verified and necessary to our ability to hold government accountable.

As Shirkey also noted,  “the transformation of newspapers from enterprises devoted to objective reporting to a cluster of communities, each engaged in its own kind of ‘news’–and each with its own set of ‘truths’–will mean the loss of a single national narrative and agreed upon set of facts.” Daniel Moynahan famously said that we are all entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts. Evidently, he was wrong.

TMI–too much information.  And much too much misinformation.


  1. Thank you, thank you. If Americans can’t agree upon which side is “correct” in any given issue, perhaps we can at least agree upon the need of a free press to give us this “verification”.

    The health, college, and political records of sittyin President are still ignored while we have front-page coverage of the emails of the former governor of Alaska. With Indianapolis libraries operating on reduced hours and law enforcement lacking office supplies, how much CIB funding and Super Bowl preparation is enough?

    One day, maybe even in the bottom of our ideological chasm we keep chiseling deeper and wider (remember- all those Tea Partiers have to be xenophobes), we may collectively long for journalism trying to get to the truth.

  2. Also, verification is time consuming and, therefore, expensive. Cuts into profits. In addition to management probably discouraging using time in that fashion, I imagine some journalists – being only human – might welcome an excuse to reduce time spent verifying things; since that’s probably harder work and boring.

  3. I’m a little surprised that Doug and Ms. Kennedy admit there is such a thing as “truth.” Wow….so I guess truth isn’t relative???

  4. I don’t know about, say, Platonic Truth. But, there are facts that are verifiable.

    A potential problem is suggested by having strong enough assumptions about what I believe based on limited data such that you’re able to be “surprised” to find something contrary to those assumptions. If that’s representative of a pattern, it could lead to belief in Truths that aren’t, in fact, true.

  5. Doug, then I can assume you don’t think evolution is fact. I do like how you left the door open for moral relativism though. Moral truth exists, but science can’t verify it through scientific study.

  6. LednaVira. You are way off topic and off base here. Evolution and moral truth have zero to do with a responsible press verifying what it publishes before actually doing so.

  7. Jon, it isn’t way off topic to point out inconsistencies within a person’s worldview. If someone laments that journalists are not reporting facts, in essence they are distorting the truth or hiding it. I was merely pointing out that many liberals subscribe to moral relativism; denying moral truths (facts) and accepting beliefs that are not supported by facts (evolution).

    It should come as no surprise that journalists no longer think they must be truthful or factual in their reporting, when the rest of the world isn’t concerned with truth either.

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