The public is only as informed about current events as the media is able to report on those events.
Government officials and businesses that try to hide information are keeping you, the citizens and taxpayers, in the dark.
While it's true that social media sites can spread news fast, much faster than a newspaper's print cycle, the reliability of such items can often be regarded as no more than gossip. Remember Tim Tebow's fake girlfriend, or the Notre Dame football player's fake lady friend? And Twitter reported -- falsely -- in 2009 that Jeff Goldblum fell off a cliff in New Zealand.
You probably don't have time to attend all the government meetings or to chase down reports of a company hiring workers. Frankly, government meetings can get boring, but they are important. So for those who want to know what's really happening can turn to newspapers. But reporters need access to know what's going on so we can be present when you cannot.
That's why last week was difficult and frustrating for us at the Times-Gazette. National Pen Co. is hiring new workers, reportedly for their call center. I say reportedly because company officials spoke to Nashville TV stations but refused last week to provide that information to your hometown newspaper. A company official at the local office promised to get clearance from the corporate office to provide us that information, but I have not seen it yet. However, the local office was able to speak to the Nashville media.
If you're looking for a job, I hope you saw the TV reports last week or are reading this blog now -- otherwise, you might have missed out on a job opportunity. I cannot make sense of the company's refusal; I could speculate, but I prefer not to gossip.
Then on Thursday, I was dismayed when the Bedford County Board of Education and County Finance Director Robert Daniel refused to give me a draft budget for the school system. Their reasoning was that the documents were "in progress" and "not for public consumption." Although I was able to provide a few details in my follow-up story that were discussed in the budget committee meeting, I do not know many other details of the preliminary budget. I know that if I were a parent, I would want to know what's going on. School security will likely be addressed in some fashion in the next budget.
The school board and Daniel seemed to think that if the public were to read a report of these preliminary documents, people would be confused into thinking that these numbers were final. But that's the point of draft budgets --- it's not final. That's a given.
If you are a resident of McMinn or Hamilton counties, places where I have previously worked as a reporter, you would have more access to public records than you are receiving from your public officials here in Bedford County. In those other counties, I had access to working budgets and other preliminary documents. That's because those documents are protected as public records according to state law, and those counties' officials are providing those documents as they are required to do. T-G Staff Writer Brian Mosely says the Shelbyville city government always has given him early versions of the draft budget.
Frank Gibson of the Tennessee Press Association, a long time champion of public records and meetings, said this is the first time he has heard this excuse.
"It is not attorney work product or auditor working papers," Gibson said in an email to the Times-Gazette. "Short answer is that under t.c.a. 10-7-503 et seq, it is a public record unless Mr. Daniel can point to a legal exemption."
If you want to read more about National Pen and the school budget, John Carney and I wrote editorials in Sunday's paper.