WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Covering Government Secrecy

Jun 25, 2013

The Shop Talk panelists discuss the idea of creating a secrecy beat to try ensuring government remains transparent.

The idea originated with Dan Froomkin, who wrote about it in Columbia Journalism Review:

“If the extraordinary secrecy that has spread throughout our government since 9/11 is what makes it difficult to hold a public debate on an issue as central as government surveillance of its citizenry, then the media’s role should be to push back against that secrecy. And the media’s most powerful weapon is not editorials that few people read or appeals to sympathy that few people have.

“Our most powerful weapon is reporters,” Froomkin continued.  “Even in this day of fragmented audiences and decimated newsrooms, major news organizations still have the ability to spark a national conversation around a given issue, by putting experienced, tenacious beat reporters on the story.

So what’s needed is a new beat, to cover secrecy itself.”

The Shop Talk panelists generally like the idea. They point out the Obama administration came into office promising to improve transparency but instead has done the opposite, and has also tried to crack down on leakers and whistle blowers.

However, they wonder if news organizations with shrinking staff sizes can manage to devote a reporter to such a beat, which might not consistently yield stories. They agree the beat should be handled by a dogged, veteran journalist rather than a reporter fresh out of college.

Panelist Mike Murray is also concerned about whether a secrecy reporter would be able to verify information with multiple sources. He said that might cause some news organizations to shy away from creating such a beat.