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February 15, 2011

A Failure to Inform

Shawn Burns

The time has come for our local newspapers to evaluate and re-evaluate their role in our community. Recent current events – and the embarrassingly lack of adequate reporting by our newspapers – raise serious doubts about their usefulness and effectiveness in our community.


Disseminating information to the citizens of a community is the fundamental purpose of news outlets. If they fail in that purpose, is their only role to be an outlet for advertisers?


Let’s start by looking at the recent issue of funding for the Frederick County Head Start program.


The Head Start program is an immensely important issue to many residents, regardless of which side of the argument you are on.


The articles published by both local papers on this issue were filled with quotes from the county commissioners and people who were upset with the decision to cut the funding for Head Start. And that’s where the “reporting” ended – with both papers.


Where was any attempt at an in-depth look at the issue? After the emotions of the issue and quotes from individuals, where were the facts?


One or both of our local newspapers should have done a feature article on Head Start. The article should have contained a through history of the program from its inception both at the federal and local level. The article should have contained information and statistics regarding the hard numbers of the program through the years. How many children have participated and benefited from the program in its history in Frederick County?


I’ve heard it said many times recently that the Frederick County Head Start program is a model program that other areas turn to for inspiration. Well, great. Why didn’t our papers examine that angle of this issue?


All of the recent articles on the issue of Head Start have been virtually devoid of any research or facts. How can the citizens of this community make an informed opinion one way or the other when our newspapers fail to give us any real information?


There appears to be a general laziness and lack of inquisitiveness in regards to digging deeper on issues affecting our community by both of our local newspapers. I am fully aware that emotion is what sells newspapers. It may be more interesting and profitable to only scratch the surface of an issue and fill the rest of an article with emotional quotes and fluff, but that does not help the community which the newspaper supposedly represents.


As we all know, most county government meetings take place during the day or early evening while most of us are working. This means we rely heavily on the reporting of these meetings by our local newspapers. But by the lack of actual information and hard facts provided to the citizens, our reliance seems to be misplaced. Newspapers are dying and I dare say this is one of the big reasons why.


“The theory of the free press is not that the truth will be presented completely or perfectly in any one instance, but that the truth will emerge from free discussion,” said Walter Lippman.


What Mr. Lippman, who was an editor and writer, failed to take into account is that the citizens can not have a meaningful discussion which will lead to truth if our local newspapers fail in their duty to provide us with facts.


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