Too often too many journalists see government agencies as only the enemy. A place to attack for information.
Hell, I often think that way too. Way too many bureaucrats think that because they have a top-secret clearance (or just access to info that I don’t but need for a story) they have a god-given right to NOT talk to me and not release the information. Even though that information is a.) not classified and b.) the public’s property.
But every now and then a government agency (or two) does the right thing and actually promotes freedom of the press and increased access to government information.
In this case, the US Agency for International Development and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the State Department are promoting all these good things in other countries. It is a good and proper thing they are doing.
Working with the International Center for Journalists, these two US government offices are running a multi-year program — which means it is exempt from the current government shutdown — “to build the capacity of investigative journalists in eight target countries, including Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay.”
- The participating journalists will attend series of country-specific workshops on digital and mobile security and developing investigative projects beginning later this month.
- The journalists will also engage in a four-week online training course on developing transnational investigative reporting projects along with security protocols for editors and reporters.
- The ICFJ will help provide online resources and access to database sets that are useful for news reports and are searchable in Spanish.
- Reporters, editors and media owners will get training in sustainability models and strategies so that what they learned will not go to waste. The training will include how to develop a Latin American Investigative Network of journalists and news organizations.
- Lastly, the reporters will learn new digital research tools that will help them cover specialized topics of interest.
These are excellent countries for this program.
All of the countries suffer from government institutions that are even more hesitant than their USA counterparts to share information. They are in countries where moneyed interests don’t want their secrets revealed and who are often all to ready to pay for thugs to intimidate and kill nosy journalists. They also come from places where the news organizations often spend less on quality journalism training than even the most cash-strapped USA news group.
In the specific cases of Nicaragua and Ecuador, the journalists are facing hostile governments that have a long-distance relationship with the concept of free and independent media. The other countries do not face government intimidation, rather physical dangers come from gangs and thugs.
The US agencies are providing a leg up and a helping hand to the journalists who want to do their jobs properly and who want to hold their governments and business interests accountable to the public. (I know several journalists like this in Honduras. Their biggest problems are intimidation by the gangs. Many also face lack of proper financial and training support from their publishers.)
Rather than shy away from such US government support, American journalism organizations should embrace, encourage and work with these agencies to help improve the quality of journalism in the developing world. Between the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association, and the Radio, Television and Digital News Directors there are more than enough qualified journalists with the necessary journalism and language skills to help around the world.
And if the national organizations won’t step up, maybe some local chapters should.