Commentary

printed 03/12/2021

The only way to fight misinformation is to provide verifiable information.

That’s the focus of National Sunshine Week (March 14-20), the annual newspaper industry campaign to ensure open governments in the communities they serve.

Begun in 2005 by what was then known as the American Society of News Editors — now the News Leaders Association — Sunshine Week aims to remind the public that knowing how their governments operate builds trust between citizens and the institutions that work for them.

All too often, the absence of information leads some members of the public to supply their own, and, more often than not, they think the worst. This is how conspiracy theories are born, from surmises and speculation created to fill the informational void.

Although the idea of Sunshine Week might be taken by some to suggest that government can’t be trusted, that’s not the case. Most people in our governments are well-intentioned, although they do sometimes resent nosy reporters who make more work for them or call them to account for actions taken.

But Sunshine Week also means that much of the responsibility for maintaining an open government falls on citizens themselves, who sometimes find it easier to ignore government actions that don’t affect them directly.

In that regard, community newspapers in particular act as conduit between government and the public. They are, or attempt to be, a middle partner of sorts that works to inform both sides of what one thinks of the other.

That’s how the democratic equation is supposed to work: an informed government and an informed electorate make for less political discord and more balanced policies.

Newspapers can’t help with that without the cooperation of government officials and employees and citizens. As Sunshine Week begins, we encourage the public and government to commit to openness and awareness and to end our occasional reliance on what we think, rather than what we know.

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