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Saturday, June 25, 2016

A place where the people still rule

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Complaints abound over government today, but at least one branch still does things right.

I've spent some mornings over the last few weeks in Circuit Court as part of the jury pool, and two things stand out:

* A jury pool made up of a good cross-section of people. Often in life, one small, non-inclusive, group of the privileged or connected make too many decisions.

Not so in the courtroom.

My pool appeared to be a good cross-section of all income levels and ages, a good mix of black and white and full of decent people. For once, real people get to make major decisions. It should happen more often -- and in other scenarios besides courtrooms.

* People who cared. From the comments overheard "out in the audience," nearly all seemed to be sincere about their potential duty.

A few who left when I did were glad they didn't have to serve. I wouldn't mind at all, but no attorney is going to want a police beat reporter with case knowledge far beyond what's revealed in court.

Judges Lee Russell and Robert Crigler methodically make sure things are done correctly and in order. I was impressed with the work of both.

I don't envy lawyers and judges who devote much of their lives to such life-changing, or even life-ending, decisions for so many. The Tennessee court system's website has detailed summaries of thousands of judicial decisions. Many are based on multiple previous decisions which set precedents. The research involved looks boring, tedious -- and entirely necessary.

It's refreshing to see one branch of government where the people still rule and those in charge handle things fairly and well.

On to other topics:

Openness in media: Score one for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. The relatively small Texas newspaper broke the story about Vice President Cheney's unfortunate shooting of his hunting buddy.

But the Washington press corps do have a legitimate gripe about not being notified. Cheney should have had a press release out immediately.

Cheney's right in that the story would have eventually spread, as it did, without his intervention. Just as in Corpus Christi, if a national story broke in Shelbyville we'd quickly notify the Associated Press. For example, within 3 1/2 hours after Thursday's fatal accident near Deason our story was on the AP wire and we'd been contacted by Channel 4 in Nashville and the Tullahoma News.

How not to do things: In today's journalistic climate where plagiarism is being rooted out (good for the discoverers!), it's important for a reporter to have actually written what their name's above.

That's why this Tennessee Coalition for Open Government press release irritated me. I agree with TCOG's aims, but pre-written stories crediting people with quotes they didn't make are a no-no. (Pay close attention to the parentheses -- what's enclosed is exactly how the release read.)

State Media Focuses on Open Government

By Claudia Johnson (this can be replaced with a local writer's name and title)


Citizens are being urged to speak out in support of the "Government in Sunshine Improvement Act of 2006."

The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government (TCOG) ... is asking for grassroots support of Senate Bill 2471/House Bill 2495.

"(your news organization's name) hopes to be the leader in generating support for this bill among its readers and the public," said (news organization official and title). "The (newspaper or your news organization) is requesting that letters be sent within the next two weeks clearly stating the author's personal belief in open meetings..."

(name) noted that there is nothing to discourage violations at a time when the TCOG survey showed them increasing.

"Many complaints in the survey were from government lawyers or elected officials themselves," (name) explained.

"About half the states have rules in their law that makes the rules clear for the public and public officials," (name) said.

To TCOG: You're dealing with professional journalists. We can speak and write for ourselves.

David Melson, a Times-Gazette copy editor/staff writer, frequently speaks and writes for himself on the opinion page. Comments: dmelson@t-g.com.

David Melson
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