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Guest editorial: Be involved,stay informed, follow the news

Through the public's right to know, we've learned about dangerous medicines, detainees of the war on terror and how public institutions allocate money. Locally, we can learn when a sex offender (or at least those the state deems most likely to re-offend) moves into our neighborhood; when new rules on the state and local level will go into effect and sometimes why and how that will make a difference; the rationale for tax increases (even if some don't like them) and much more.

This week is Sunshine Week, a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include print, online and broadcast news media, along with schools, libraries, nonprofits and others supporting the public's right to know.

While there is still plenty of reason for all types of news media and citizens' groups to be aggressive and vigilant about access, part of the dilemma in today's world is not that information isn't available; it's that the volume is overwhelming and the sources can be pretty unreliable.

One writer observed a public/press disconnect that most of us in the business have felt: Just what has gone wrong in American journalism? Fewer people pay attention. More of those who do ... reject all or part of the news.

What does it mean for our democracy that so many people ignore or disbelieve the people whose job it is to be a watchdog of our government? What does it mean that trust seems to be under broad assault?

The Columbia Journalism Review, a magazine by journalists about journalism, suggests, "Voices from the right will tell you that the disconnect is happening because elite newsrooms lean left, and voices from the left say it is because elite journalists tilt toward political and corporate power.

Both arguments have merit, though they are often exaggerated for political ends. Other factors are less discussed. One is that there is simply too much noise, that getting straight news now from this hyped and opinion-loaded beast feels like trying to drink from a fire hose. Another theory is that the audience itself has changed, and has retreated from civic life.

"All that individual journalists can do, as we all think through these challenges, is rededicate ourselves to journalism's central mission and find ways of explaining that mission to the public. If we want people on our side, in other words, we have to do work that actually benefits them. And we have to explain ourselves. Thus we applaud the coalition of organizations behind Sunshine Week, who are making an effort between March 13 and 19 to promote access to public records. More such efforts are in order. More to the point, we salute those journalists who are quietly fighting to stay on mission -- the editor who talks his publisher into another education correspondent, the station manager who gives a reporter more time, the columnist who remains intellectually honest, the features editor who rolls the dice on something deep. The quality of our press and our democracy really are linked. This new day for journalism requires an old-fashioned faith." -- Park Rapids Enterprise