The Citizen Journalist

I am not a writer – and certainly not a “journalist.”

At best, a dilettante opinionist, at worst, a blowhard with internet access. . .

I regularly receive requests from loyal members of the Barker’s View tribe asking that I “investigate” a governmental excess or inefficiency – or “look into” some political intrigue or right a civic wrong that media outlets have turned up their noses at – and, on occasion, these requests pique my interest and I’ll make a call, do a public records request, or ask around to satisfy my own curiosity.

And sometimes those who contact me go away pissed because I do not share their moral outrage over an outsized water bill – or the fact their trash was not collected on time – or demand answers as to why Volusia County won’t maintain their driveway, etc., etc.

Sadly, regardless of the issue at hand, in nearly every case the person who calls me demands anonymity – a request I always honor – because they fear retribution from their own local government if it were known they were seeking answers, even to relatively benign questions. 

Most of the time I refer the concerned reader to their elected representative (a name they rarely know), a resource that had not crossed their minds, because so many politicians stop acknowledging the concerns of their constituents about 12-minutes after they win an election. . . 

Many times, those who reach out to me are just like-minded souls who want someone to listen to their concerns or kibbitz about the issues of the day.

I know how that feels – and nobody likes hearing the rumors and gossip more than I do. 

But the fact remains, I don’t ‘report the news’ in this space – I wouldn’t know how – yet I am all too quick to tell those who do how the job of covering the news should be accomplished (playing the hyper-critical know-it-all is kind of my schtick. . .)

I’m not saying that local media outlets aren’t their own worst enemies at times – because they are – but when I read a news story regarding community issues without official comment, or listen to a television reporter stand before the camera and say with a frustrated sigh, “..and (insert highly paid government officials name here) didn’t return phone calls on Monday or Tuesday seeking comment,” or “We don’t comment on litigation, personnel issues, anything of substance, etc., etc.” – normally followed by a canned written statement from something called a “Public Information Officer” – I get the feeling that true transparency and outreach in government is a thing of the past. 

And it becomes apparent that the chasm between our government bureaucracies and the working press has never been wider. 

When I was playing government – I worked for a small municipality that didn’t have a public information staff to spin a response to media requests.  As a result, I learned the importance of openness and honesty when providing a release, always done with daily personal contact with the reporter – making sure their needs were met and developing trust over time.  

As a result, I became friends with many long-time reporters – some of whom remain close to this day. 

While those personal and professional relationships did not insulate me from the occasional trip to the woodshed – they allowed me to push critical information to the public, explain situations without fear of having the information released prematurely, and involve the press as a trusted and valued member of the team during emergencies.

With that citizens got to know their public servants by name – and knew who to call when they needed help.

(Two-years after I retired, I was still receiving calls on my cell phone from former constituents who didn’t realize (or care) that I was no longer their police chief – they just wanted me to sort out a problem they were having. . .I miss that.)   

Perhaps that accessibility is why a hack like me gets so many requests from citizens searching desperately for help navigating the rat maze that passes for our ‘Halls of Power’ during their search for that illusive kernel of truth?

In the information vacuum that has been created by the increasingly insular nature of our elected and appointed officials, many taxpayers take to social media for answers – seeking validation of their suspicions – speculating on the who, what, why, when, and how of public policies and positions that effect our lives and livelihoods – effectively becoming ‘citizen journalists’ seeking clarity in the murky world of local politics and passing that knowledge on to their neighbors.

It also gets confusing when elected officials wade into the often-contentious waters of social media to argue with their frustrated constituents or harangue them for taking a position contrary to the carefully crafted official narrative, odd behavior from those holding positions of trust that breeds more questions and solidifies the notion that citizen input in the process is unwelcome and almost universally ignored by decisionmakers.

I’m not sure consolidating, hoarding, and controlling the release of information as a means of maintaining power and control over the governed is how things are supposed to work in a representative democracy. 

So, if you have questions about pressing civic issues – or just need help with a government service – I encourage you to reach out to your elected representative at the city or county level and share your concerns with them – and ask for their help.

Demand answers and make your needs and opinions known. 

Better yet, attend a public meeting and address your elected officials during what passes for public participation – it is every citizen’s right and civic responsibility to seek information and contribute to the greater discussion – even if those on the dais of power sit there staring into space like gargoyles – I guarantee others in the community who share your concerns will be grateful for your involvement.

Then, if you fail to get a prompt and respectful response from the official who was elected to represent your interests, you know who to cast your sacred vote for in the next election.   

That is where the ultimate power lies. 

5 thoughts on “The Citizen Journalist

  1. You live in Ormond Beach – you know how impossible it is to get an answer from our “elected officials”, right? Try & get something done; try to be heard (without being a blogger w/a great following) – unless you’re a developer with pots of money, it ain’t gonna happen!

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  2. Mark, what passes for PI here was being laughed at and held up as bad examples in formal schools over 40 years ago. Our PI functions now would match replacing SWAT weapons with snub-nosed .32s.

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  3. I have emailed officials in Ormond Beach like the mayor who gives you a canned reply to f off and leave me alone you dont know what you are talking about .I did not vote for him but the other choice was no better.Love ya Mark but reporters on tv and print in Florida have their own agenda and investigative reporting died.Still cant prove the jerk in Atlanta is a racist or he killed Asians for racist reasons but every damn station calls him one and then says it has not been proven yet or the moron local reporter who has an atitude that a bike club of ex LEOs and Veterans who wants to open a bike club across from Bethune makes it sound racist..Why because they are mostly black at Bethune and he thinks the club members are white and thats not fair to the blacks..We dont get news we get opinions.

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  4. Mark Barker, Excellent blog with a clear and concise observation on transparency in government or lack thereof. In my 35 years in daily news reporting my experience throughout is that transparency does NOT exist. So it is up to me to  keep an open mind, but not allow myself to led down a path for which the ultimate prize is lost – the news. That often means going against the grain G, orto get the proof (public records) , reliable sources, etc to reinforce the fallacy of truth and fair place is A to Z by government because often it will stop at F, G,or H, if it ever really got there to begin with. BTW, you referenced taxpayers turning to citizen journalism via social media, whatever, in part with “who, what, why, when, and how” of this or that. There’s one W you did not include: The WHERE. Where did it come from? Where did it start? Where is it going? Where will the exchange take place? And perhaps most important, where can I get my hands on it? From the working press perspective, the tenets of fact-based reporting are these: The Who, the What, the Where, the When, the Why and the How? You pride yourself in your role as a blogger and you readily acknowledge the importance of journalism and its importance in keeping politicians and government handlers accountable. I am often branded as a “blogger” as if I am a “wannabe” reporter who is inherently biased and vindictive. My greatest weapon in combating this  is something that is intangible, but oh so real: The truth. Here are three such examples: I warned the public, law enforcement and school district leaders about the predatorychild sex behavior of David Lee Davis. I had to limit the sources in order to ensure the story got out. The story was real because  the allegations were supported by the truth and last year DLD was sent to prison for 12 years for his criminal sexual assault of a 15-year-old boy. Likewise, I finally got to write the story  where to show the public Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s unchallenged account of his speeding ticket story was just that – a story. It was untrue and he lied to avoid his day in court for reckless driving (the real offense) and I proved it through a one sentence text that he was going 80 in a 50) that from the deputy who pulled him over 17 days after he took office that what he told the public through the press was pure fiction. And there was the the third example last year: A story that demonstrated unequivocally that Heather J. Post blatantly lied to the voters on the eve of the 2012 elections through the press  and her own campaign supporters in vehemently denying past drug use in what turned out to be a less-than-stellar career in law enforcement. I have the journalism awards to demonstrate that I report the news that matters most. (including these three stories) I have more of these journalism-industry awards than the entire reporting staffs of the Daytona Beach News-Journal, the Orlando Sentinel and all the Orlando TV stations combined. Because the truth matters to me. I know it matters to you. And I’m certain to your legions of fans. Thank you, Mark Barker, for your insights. I know this as a fact that never once have you come after me for anyone else. It is my wish and request of you that when we are both fully vaccinated from COVID that we lead a roundtable discussion (even if it is just us or on Big John’s radio show) on why journalism is so important and the factors that have eroded public confidence and trust in it. That’s when the issue of transparency will become crystal clear. I am hoping you will post my comment because it is the truth and the essence of who and why I continue to do the reporting. Because it matters…      

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