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Name:
Location: Austin, Texas, United States

I'm a software engineer / partner working for a young company in Austin, Texas, USA. I spend most of my free time hanging out with friends and family, eating out, and partying in the Warehouse District. I should spend more time working on my house....

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Shut Up, Stupid

I was reading the Austin American Statesman's editors blog and came along this post describing the complaints and concerns that a reader had about an article the Statesman posted about terrorists attacking our food supply. This reader thought that articles about such topics were "stupid" and that they should just "shut up". This (along with similar concerns voiced in other posts on their blog) annoyed me so I wrote him a letter:

Fred,

I just finished reading your post "Shut Up, Stupid" on the Rich & Fred blog. I think this caller represents a constant challenge to journalists and information managers generally. A significant segment of our population feels that negative news or complete information about certain topics should simply not be voiced.

These people have many reasons ranging from hurting morale to endangering children. These people feel that mere knowledge of facts and figures is dangerous or bad. Certainly, as you mention in your post, some information is dangerous and should not be made easily accessible. There is no need for the Statesman to run an article and diagrams on how to make a bomb out of household goods. Having said that, very little information should be placed beyond easy public reach. Articles about "Contractors running amok in Iraq", photo tributes to soldiers lost in war, and articles about possible terrorist threats are exactly the kind of information the public needs.

These examples provide context and important information about complex topics that effect our lives. Individuals who wish to hide this information follow some sort of panglossian ethic that ignoring information will make it go away or prevent more negatives from occurring. There is a particular arrogance to these people believing they know what is best for the public to know.

I think, and I believe history shows, it is the highest and most important job of a journalist to report on these topics. It is vitally important that the public have *all* the relevant information so that they can make informed decisions about how to spend their money, elect their leaders, and educate their children. The world is a complex, nuanced, good with the bad, shades of gray place and adults should be able to deal with that fact.

Thank you for your time. Keep the good work.

Sincerely,

William J. McKenna

p.s. Although all of my examples reference war related topics, the same concerns show up when reporting on sex education in high school, homosexuality, abortion, etc...


The cool thing is he replied back and said, "Your eloquence is powerful." That is just about the best compliment I have ever gotten for something I wrote. Sweet!

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