Distributed reporting assignment desk: The transparency test

Distributed reporting assignment desk: The transparency test

: This would be a great assignment for a distributed army of citizen reporters:

The Toronto Star sent reporters from across Canada into government offices to try to get documents to which citizens are entitled.

If somebody would organize it, that would be a good idea for bloggers to swarm the government across the country to see just how transparent it is: What if we all went to our own town halls, county offices, and/or state governments to request, say:

: Expense accounts of elected officials.

: Spending records on any given program (e.g., what cars government buys… when it should be buying Hyundais).

: School class size or testing performance.

: Crime statistics.

Then we could all post our reports with a standard tag — e.g., transparency test — that could be aggregated via Technorati and PubSub.

A news organization could be good at organizing such a distributed effort, because they could publicize the effort and set the standards and edit the results into a good story. But you don’t need a news organization to handle this; anyone could. It’s just that newspapers and TV news operations would be smart to try projects such as this as a way to expand their newsgathering.

Here’s what the Star found:

Canadians seeking basic government information about class sizes, restaurant safety or police complaints are up against a culture of secrecy, a national audit of openness shows.

In the country’s first-ever practical test of transparency, reporters visited city halls, police forces, school boards and federal government offices across Canada to test how bureaucrats administer laws protecting the public’s right to government information. They found a confusing patchwork of policies across the country.

Officials handed over records to just one in every three requesters who came in person. The rest remained locked tight in government filing cabinets as applicants were told they had to file time-consuming ó and often expensive ó formal requests under provincial or federal access laws.

[via Bill Doskoch]

: In the comments, Larry Borsato corrects me to say this was a project across many papers in Canada. Could have just as easily have been across many citizens.