Or more precisely, getting paid to spend the time to find out what’s really going on in your community.
There are many talented bloggers out there. But the vast majority of them don’t get paid a steady paycheck to go down to City Hall, spend all day at council meetings, scrutinize campaign finance reports, and do all the things you need to do to hold officials accountable.
Friedersdorf contrasted the work of a concerned citizen versus a newspaper reporter in California:
Let’s expound on the difference between Richard Marosi, Los Angeles Times reporter, acting as a government watchdog, and Miguel Figueroa, a lampshade maker, trying to do the same thing. Consider the task of getting the credit card bills that document graft in Lynwood. They are public records: state law mandates that the city turn them over to anyone who asks.
But a newspaper reporter has the time a lampshade maker doesn’t to go down to city hall during business hours; if the City Clerk wants to charge for photocopies, the reporter can expense it to the newspaper, whereas the lampshade maker pays out of pocket; should the City Clerk refuses to hand over the documents, the reporter can have an attorney at the newspaper draft a convincing letter, and write an article in the newspaper hammering the city for breaking the law; should the city clerk dally further, the reporter can have an LA Times attorney sue the city, and write another scathing story; and if the lawsuit drags on, he can stick it out, though that is seldom necessary, because when your legal adversary is correct on the merits, buys ink by the barrel, and cultivates a reputation for sticking things out, you rarely put them to the test.
Miguel Figueroa did far more than most Southern California residents ever would merely by pursuing the matter — it took him two years to get the credit card records. What did he do next? He called Richard Marosi, who launched an investigation, documenting enough abuses to sell his editors on a front page story, and creating enough of a public stir to take on the crooks in Lynwood. What would have happened if there weren’t any LA Times reporter assigned to that beat?
(Photo credit: Mike Licht on Flickr)