On My Soapbox: They notice what’s missing

Happy Sunshine Week!

It’s sunshine week. For those who don’t know, sunshine week is all about transparency. During this week, journalists all over the country are encouraged to promote transparency. It’s described as “the annual nationwide celebration of public information and what it means for you and your community.”

The Taylor City Council meetings are (in most cases) streamed live online and available after the meeting. If a reporter is not at the meeting, people notice;

not just community members, but council members and city staff.

Even if I go into the overflow at a city council meeting, they know I’m there, probably because my recorder is sitting on the podium.

Or it could be because I usually sit by the door so they pass me as they walk in.

Taylor ISD school board meetings are not streamed, but they also know if there is not a reporter there. At school board meetings, there is a nameplate for the Taylor Press. When I covered school board, I sat there. So they knew when I was there.

Our presence at meetings is more critical than most people realize. When a reporter is not in the building, elected officials may speak up a little more or indulge in more discussion than normal.

Why? Because part of a reporter’s job is to hold the person speaking accountable for what they say.

My motto is (and always has been), “if you don’t want people to hear it, don’t say it.”

Some people listen, but . . . Some people don’t.

That doesn’t mean elected officials or city staff will share confidential information in public, but they may be willing to say a little more than if a reporter was in the room.

We can’t ask questions during the meeting. But we can the next day. So if we hear something that is unclear, we will pick up the phone and give people a call.

In some cases, I will walk to city hall and meet with people.

Make no mistake, we have a good relationship with the city and the school, so we can get the information we need.

At the same time, we are not in anybody’s pocket so people are not always excited to see my number on the caller ID.

Back to my motto, if you don’t want people to hear it, don’t say it. That could mean less phone calls from reporters. However, it could also mean even more phone calls and visits.

Since I’m expecting elected officials and government to be transparent, I will be too. Just because a reporter is not at a meeting physically doesn’t mean we are not paying attention to what’s going on.

I’m going to get off my soapbox now and watch some college hoops so I can create a perfect bracket next week.

I’m sure you’re laughing just as hard as I am about that line.

“A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.”

- Dalai Lama

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