The Northwest Indiana Times has a column from the Associated Press (the author of which didn’t jump out at me if that information is displayed somewhere) entitled “Inner Workings of Indiana Government Rarely Disclosed.”
I’m sympathetic to the message, but ultimately it seems a little superficial. It’s true that there are policy decisions and deals that are either ill-advised or self-serving or both. The column gives this abbreviated list (in addition to the Tony Bennett grade changing scandal):
The chief of staff to Secretary of State Connie Lawson has spent the last five months negotiating a job with lobbying powerhouse The Corydon Group. An ongoing Indianapolis Star investigation uncovered that a contractor hired by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, Elevate Ventures, had sent $800,000 in federal money meant for startup business to companies it had ties to. And the Indianapolis Business Journal uncovered a pay-to-play scandal at Indianapolis’ land bank program months before federal agents spent a day hauling records from the City-County Building and indictments were announced.
But then the column goes on to complain that lawmakers only issue press releases about the good stuff they do and don’t announce the bad stuff. Well, duh. But in a lot of these cases the information was available to a public or a press that was paying attention or was digging into the details.
As much or more than public malfeasance, this is an indictment of public apathy and the deterioration of journalism. I’m not sure what we can do about public apathy. I’m more of a public policy and state politics nerd than your average citizen, and I feel the apathy in myself. After a day of work, coaching soccer, getting in some exercise, washing the dishes, and reading to the kids at bedtime, my appetite for being a citizen watchdog is awfully low.
Which brings us to the journalists. There has been some excellent work – Tom LoBianco’s recent efforts in particular. But, do we even have a dozen journalists working the state government beat in this state? I can name maybe six off the top of my head (but I won’t for fear of inadvertently leaving out someone I should remember). Most of them are really good at what they do (there are one or two kiss-asses who seem to be primarily engaged in stenography), but they are simply outgunned. The State government is a billion dollar industry with thousands of employees. To effectively cover it simply requires more resources. But, long ago, newspapers seem to have made the decision that wire stories, opinion pieces, and fluff was a more cost-effective way to sell ad space than devoting resources to investigative journalism. But, that was like eating their seed corn, and that’s why (in my ever so humble opinion) the newspaper industry has been in such disarray in recent years.
So, I don’t disagree that State government has behaved badly in certain respects. But I can’t agree that the acts were hidden particularly well. We just weren’t paying much attention.