Category Archives: Information politics

Archivists challenged to look ahead for looking back

The sounds of the past enrich our understanding of the nation’s cultural history and our history in general.  Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress

We live in what Harlan Cleveland dubbed a “temperocentric” world, a world that expresses ideas in fewer than 140 characters, and then moves on……

This is digital age, when thoughts expressed in 140 characters start a war, when a signature replaces a thoughtful disquisition, when Facebook and emails can be manipulated and alternative facts thrive, the work of the archivist is ever-more challenging and still more essential.

And then my thoughts rambled:  I wondered future researchers will ever know how decisions were made……. At the core is a deep concern about the implications of those tweets for government transparency and accountability?

More concerning is the degree to which the ephemeral nature of information and communication will relieve them of responsibility – culpability – for the consequences or blur the causes of their actions.]

It is cold comfort to learn that the President’s tweets are safely archived, available for researchers who will bear the burden of explaining this era:  http://www.trumptwitterarchive.com.  Still tweets, even archived tweets are of scant value.

The serious work archiving President’s papers is in the hands of archivists. abby Zimet’s article published just yesterday in Common Dreams, offers a good – actually fun-to-read– overview of one major effort to cope with the Trump archives.  https://www.commondreams.org/further/2017/05/09/lots-copies-make-stuff-safe-saving-trumps-bigly-dumb-words

Clearly, it is a mighty challenge to capture the archival record of this era, much less to assure permanent access to past public documents. In recent months archivists have welcomed the assistance of informed volunteers – archivists, librarians, researchers, historians and others concerned with preservation of real facts have met the challenge.  Though it’s a finger in the dike of information flow our nation’s recorded history is at risk.

Without archives many stories of real people would be lost, and along with those stories, vital clues that allow us to reflect and interpret our lives today. ― Sara Sheridan

UPDATE:  https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/05/ex-feds-confident-comeys-devices-and-files-are-safe-even-if-fbi-wont-confirm/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Access to Obama Administration Archives — A priority in progress

Writing about the current President’s tweets prompted me to focus with greater interest on just what’s happening with the archives of the Obama administration.

It did not take long to appreciate that reality exceeds expectations.  With the cooperation of the Obama Administration archivists are committed to assure access to massive amounts of information by and about President Obama’s eight years in the White House.  To give some idea of the massive research possibilities: The Obama administration is providing the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) with more than 250 terabytes of electronic records, including roughly 300 million emails.

NARA will start digitizing the unclassified records using a “new model” for the storage of presidential records. The Obama Presidential Center in Chicago has made a commitment to fund the digitization of all unclassified records of the Obama presidency.

In a May 3rd article in FCW, Chase Gunter describes how NARA is shifting to digital preservation strategies; Gunter writes that “henceforth the unclassified records of the Obama Administration will be archived using a new model for the storage of presidential records.  Instead of building a new site for the records they will be housed in existing NARA facilities and the agency will work on preserving and making them accessible in digital format to the greatest extent possible.” (https://fcw.com/Articles/2017/05/03/obma-records-digital-asps?p=)

Some basics re the Obama Administration archives:

Jefferson’s Birthday honors a legacy that endures and inspires

Jefferson worried that the people – and the argument goes back to Thucydides and Aristotle – are easily misled. He also stressed, passionately and repeatedly, that it was essential for the people to understand the risks and benefits of government, to educate themselves, and to involve themselves in the political process. Without that, he said, the wolves will take over. 

The words of Carl Sagan are both a mighty tribute and a warning – certainly words to consider this week as we celebrate the life lived and the principles espoused by the nation’s third president.  Though more honored in the breach than the observance,

April 13 marks the legal observance of the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, born on April 13, 1743.  The observance was declared by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15611)  affirmed by President George W. Bush in 2007. (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=25554)  Both of these proclamations underscore in detail the life, vision and lasting legacy of Thomas Jefferson.

Biographies of Jefferson are many and massive.  They record the countless ways in which Jefferson played a decisive role in shaping the lasting contours of this nation.  In his many elected and appointed positions – as Governor, Ambassador, Secretary of State, Vice President and President he was a mighty force.  His contributions are many and lasting, as are his vision and his words.

Jefferson’s legacy is both institutional and inspirational.  Jeffersonian quotes are threads woven throughout the fabric of the nation’s laws, beliefs and spirit.  They reflect his deep faith in and commitment to liberty, an informed electorate, freedom of expression and of religion, and the power of informed people to govern their own destiny.

This week, as the nation struggles to cope with the challenges of the day, the words of Thomas Jefferson inspire hope and offer guidance.  Taking time to think about and to share the words of Jefferson honor the man and focus energy on basic principles of a vibrant and viable democracy.  Of the zillions of quotable quotes, these seem especially appropriate to the times:

  • The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. 
  • Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty. 
  • I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion. 
  • No government ought to be without censors; and where the press is free no one ever will. 
  • Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question. 
  • In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. 
  • If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.  
  • Our country is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation of power first, and then corruption, its necessary consequence.
    The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground. 
  • All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Thomas Jefferson 
  • I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country. 
  • That government is the strongest of which every man feels himself a part.  

 

March for Science – Minnesotans march to protest federal cuts

When I first posted mention of the March for Science a couple of months ago both the date and the concept seemed remote.  In recent weeks we have all learned more than we want to know about the  horrendous cuts to federal funding for science – everything from EPA to NIH to NOAA and more (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/16/climate/trump-budget-science-research.html?_r=0)

As a community and as a nation we experience the imperative to resist in a public way, to speak out, to stand up – and to march – essentially to remind ourselves and our nation that science matters. On Saturday, April 22, Earth Day 2017, thousands of Americans will gather in Washington, DC for a march not unlike the Women’s March in January – only warmer.

As with the Women’s March there will be satellite marches throughout the nation.  In Minnesota, a coalition of individuals from all walks of life will gather to march to the State Capitol.  Promoters of the Minnesota March say that these teachers, researchers, librarians, students, nonprofits, labor unions and faith groups share a common mission to (in the words of my high school teacher) “combat ignorance.”

The March will start at Cathedral Hill Park at 11:AM ( https://goo.gl/maps/dRjQxoPqS6Q2) with a Noon rally at the State Capitol. Marchers are encouraged to wear blue and green.  (Unlike the Women’s March, parkas, thermal underwear and boots are optional)

Learn much more here:  http://www.MarchForScienceMN.com/march

Minnesotans have a unique opportunity to learn and think about the mission of the March through a series sponsored by the East Side Freedom Library in St. Paul.  All are welcome to participate in the April 8 Solidarity Saturday: Science, Not Silence discussions:  http://eastsidefreedomlibrary.org/event/solidarity-saturdays-science-not-silence/

The web offers a wealth of information about the March – background, mission, examples of proposed and current budget  cuts, and why science matters more than ever.

One source of particular relevance is PLOS, a “peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science. It’s a great – and accessible – update on what’s happening in the world of science.  A recent op-ed by PLOS co-founder Harold Varmus, explores “why Trump’s NIH cuts should worry us,” Another PLOS post by Judith Reichel speaks to the relevance of the March, “Standing up for science – Now more than ever.”  More about PLOS here.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PLOS_ONE

Among other resources I enjoyed are book reviews of a current popular read entitled “Rigor Mortis: How sloppy science creates worthless cures, crushes hope, and wastes billions.   Though I have yet to read the book, the reviews motivate me to dip into what seems to be accessible to this lowly liberal arts major who knows little but cares mightily about the ongoing attacks on science.

Planners provide many options for keeping abreast of and engaged in plans for the Minnesota March for Science:

Email: info@MarchForScienceMN.com
Facebook: /MarchForScienceMN
Instagram: @MarchForScienceMN
Twitter: @ScienceMarchMN
Snapchat: @ScienceMarchMN

International Fact-Checking Day – Not a day but a rallying cry!

Though the sun has set, it’s not too late to make note of the important fact that today, April 2, 2017, is International Fact-checking Day.  The irony is that the notice I had read bears the headline “Why April 3 is International Fact-checking Day.”  Clearly, I did not fact check the date!!!

Briefly, this is the third annual global initiative, a collaboration of a host of fact-checking entities, hosted by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.  (http://www.poynter.org/about-the-international-fact-checking-network/ ) “These organizations fact-check statements by public figures, major institutions and other widely circulated claims of interest to society.”

Leaders of the effort underscore that “International Fact-Checking Day is not a single event but a rallying cry for more facts – and fact-checking – in politics, journalism and everyday life.”

The Code of Principles to which members of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) are committed to this code, launched on September 15, 2016.

  • A commitment to nonpartisanship and fairness;
  • A commitment to transparency of sources;
  • A commitment to transparency funding & organization;
  • A commitment to transparency of methodology;
  • A commitment to open and honest corrections.

For much more information about the IFCN, including an extensive listing of verified signatories form around the world, click here:   http://www.poynter.org/fact-checkers-code-of-principles/

As we face the dystopic post-truth age of alternative facts and outright fabrications we look to the IFCN to live by these principles – and above all to underscore the reality that facts matter more than ever in “information age” when misinformation and disinformation are the weapon of choice for those who would weaken, or ultimately  defeat, democracies that depend not on customers but on an informed citizenry.

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom of Information Day 2017 – An unprecedented challenge

It strikes me that it is more than appropriate that Sunshine Week, March 12-18, 2017, begins on the first day of Daylight Savings Time!  Maybe an extra hour of sunshine will actually help!  One can hope.

I have written so often about open government, transparency, the right to know, the First Amendment and the free press that I mention just one recent blog post that perhaps best expresses my deep concerns about the crisis in which we find ourselves. https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/information-and-media-not-weapons-but-tools/  

As citizens of a threatened democracy we need to think more than ever about our rights, the role of the press, and our need to discern truth in an incredible barrage of data, misinformation, fake facts, propaganda and, happily, thoughtful exposition of ideas, issues and facts.  We can’t give up.  

Nationally, the week is sponsored by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.  The SW website offers an excellent introduction to the principles, the issues, a valuable Tookkit for local activists including a calendar of what’s happening around the nation. It’s an essential starting point and inspiration to take action.  All is revealed through multiple channels, including #Sunshineweek@asne.org, and on Facebook.

For many years the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) has commemorated Sunshine Week by sponsoring a Freedom of Information Day event. The history of FOIA Day (March 16) respects the birthday of James Madison, author of the First Amendment.  And so each year MNCOGI hosts a Freedom of Information Day public event.  This year’s event is set for Thursday, March 16, Noon at the Minneapolis Central Library.

Keynote speaker at FOI recognition is Patrice McDermott, founder and long-time director of OpenTheGovernment.org, a DC-based coalition of organizations that endorse government accountability and access.  Her talk is entitled “Secrecy and Accountability – Looking Forward, Looking Back.”  Member of the National Freedom Act Hall of Fame Dr. McDermott is a national authority on the principles and challenges to the right of the people to access to information by and about the government.  

At the same gathering the Coalition will honor Tony Webster, recipient of this year’s John R Finnegan FOI Award.  Webster  is a self-proclaimed “web engineer, public records researcher, and policy nerd”. (@webster)  MNCOGI chair Gary Hill observes that “Tony Webster is a shining example of the power of a single individual to make government more transparent and hold it more accountable.”   

Sponsored each year by the Coalition, the Finnegan Award honors Minnesota newspaperman John R. Finnegan, installed in 2011 as a member of the Freedom of Information Hall of Fame (http://www.nfoic.org/2011-open-government-hall-fame)

(https://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2012/10/eulogies-john-finnegan-sr)

The FOI Day event is free and open to the public.

Related updates:

A powerful statement of press freedom endorsed by a broad coalition of agencies:  http://ncac.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Press-Freedom-Statement-FINAL.pdf

Recipient of the James Madison Award, sponsored by the American Library Association Washington Office, is Jon Tester (D-MT).  The award will be presented at one of the main events of Sunshine Week, a gathering at the Newseum in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, March 15 – streamed live from the Knight TV Studio in the Newseum.  http://www.newseum.org/live/)

Speaking Truth to Power-Black Women Journalists Who Showed the Way

This post is actually an harmonic convergence — in part necessitated by a technology glitch that curtailed writing, more important inspired by these facts:   1) African American History Month ended before this post got written;  2) we are beginning Women’ History Month, and 3) the demonization of the American press calls for positive resistance, including some real facts about some of the nation’s most powerful journalists.  

The disrespectful treatment of April Ryan actually propelled this quest  to learn more about the role that African American women journalists have played in speaking truth to power.  What I have found is a wealth of strong women whose names are little known and whose stories I am eager to learn and share through Women’s History Month posts.

Great as she was, challenged to face a digital age in which social media are the information source of choice, Gwen Ifill built on the strength of her forebears.  These are but a few of the African American women who have paved a road that Ifill, April Ryan, Charlayne Hunter-Gault,  Joy Reid and countless others are challenged to walk in the digital age.

What I have learned inspires confidence in the strength of journalists supported by the prevailing power of the First Amendment and the essential role of this nation’s free press.  I’ve also learned that women have played an unheralded role as supporters of all Americans’ right to know.

Following are just some of the African American women journalists about whom I’m learning.  They are posted in no particular order — except for the first entry who gets dibs because she’s a Minnesota native.

Marvel Cooke (1903-2000) was born in Mankato!  Her family eventually moved to Prospect Park where they were the first African American neighbors in this Minneapolis community.  She was the first African American woman to work at a mainstream newspaper.  In the 1930’s she helped to create The Newspaper Guild, a labor group that actually conducted a lengthy strike at the Amsterdam News.  Cooke described her experiences working as a domestic in white homes under the title, I was a slave.  There is a helpful entry about Marvel Cooke on MNOpedia http://www.mnopedia.org/person/cooke-marvel-jackson-1901-2000  (note: I don’t understand the inconsistency of dates, but I’m working on it…)

Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893) was a lawyer, suffragist and journalist whose family fled to Canada after passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850.  There she edited a Canadian newspaper, the Provincial Freeman for Black refugees who fled to Canada.  As an advocate for suffrage for African American women  Cary founded the Colored Women’s Progressive Franchise Association in DC in 1888 a forebear of the women’s club/sorority movement. As the first woman student at Howard University Law School she was not permitted to graduate because DC did not admit women to the bar; she returned to Howard a decade later to receive her law degree at age 60.

Maria W. Stewart (1803-1879) was a speaker/preacher before she was a journalist.  An ardent supporter of  African-American exceptionalism, always with religious theme, Stewart befriended William Lloyd Garrison, famous leader of the anti-slavery movement.  Garrison published several of her “Meditations” and speeches in The Liberator, the anti-slavery journal to which Stewart became a regular contributor.  One indication of Stewart’s legacy is the fact that the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church USA commemorates her contributions, along with those of William Lloyd Garrison, every year on December 17.

Delilah Leontium Beasley (1871-1934) was a native of Cincinnati, Ohio.  She was a newspaper columnist for the Oakland Tribune.  Beasley was the first African American women to be published regularly in a major metro newspaper.  Beasley told the story of early California’s African American leaders  in The Negro Trail-Blazers of California, published in 1919.

Charlotte Bass (1874-1969) was the first African American women to own and operate a newspaper in the US.  Incidentally Bass was the first African American women to be nominated for Vice President of this country.   She was born on Valentine’s Day in 1874  and died at age 95 in 1969.  It is likely that she was the first African American woman to own and operate a newspaper, the California Eagle, from 1912 until 1951.  In 1952 she was nominated for VP as a candidate of the Progressive Party.

Alice Allison Dunnigan (1906-1983) was the first African American woman correspondent to receive White House credentials and the first Black female member of the Senate and House of Representative galleries.  Her story is told in her autobiography, Alice A. Dunnigan: A Black Woman’s Experience.

Ethel L. Payne,(1911-1991) “combined a passionate concern for the rights of Black people in all parts of the world with a talent for investigative reporting and writing.”  Granddaughter of a Pullman Porter  Payne’s early life in Chicago was fraught with financial concerns and racial discrimination.  In time she began writing for the Chicago Defender, a Black newspaper published as an expose of immoral and illegal practices within the U.S. military.  In time Payne traveled the world, reporting on African American troops, particularly in Vietnam.  She also worked for CBS as both a radio and TV commentator.

My hope is to learn and share more about these and other Black women journalists during Women’s History Month.  I would be grateful for readers’ suggestions of other women whose stories should be must be recorded and shared.