Transparency leads to trust
March 17, 2017


Our nation is going through something of a trust overhaul.

Was there ever really a time when the vast majority of citizens trusted the media, the president, lawmakers, judges, district attorneys, doctors, teachers, church leaders, police officers - even God? Certainly not all of them all the time, but trust in each of these authorities has diminished of late. That became especially noticeable in the last year, amid the tumultuous 2016 presidential election.

Yet where does that leave us? Perhaps closer to our frontier, self-reliant roots, which isn't entirely bad, but almost no Americans are capable of complete self-sufficiency. People want and need services to make laws, enforce them, defend our nation and otherwise keep the peace; to diagnose and cure ailments of the body as well as the soul; to teach children accurate, appropriate and growth-stimulating things that will help them grow into excellent adults; and to gather news and report it accurately and fairly so we know what the heck is going on.

We're social creatures. We need each other. We always have.

The point is, we all know we need trust, even if our faith in some authorities has been shaken.

Going forward, America faces a rebuilding and reshuffling of trust on a massive scale. We hope people will be rational and not blindly follow the strongest leaders or whatever worked in their youth. They should expect to see good, solid reasons for their trust.

Transparency is an excellent reason.

While leaders have a right to privacy as well as regular people, the fact remains that more people will trust you if they can see what you're doing than if they can't. When a leader or government body takes steps to screen the public out of a meeting, to keep a sensitive matter quiet, to conceal their motives or influences, or to steer the public conversation in a certain direction - or worse, to mislead with "alternative facts" - that breaks trust.

And that brings us to Sunshine Week, which is this week.

Sunshine Week, held every March is coordinated by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press - but it's not just about journalists. It's about opening the inner workings of government for all citizens to see - to let the sun shine into the dark back corners of the public sector.

All this week, our Opinion page will contain essays and cartoons on different aspects of this right to know and how to uphold it.

When so-called "public servants" shut the doors of your own government on you, it kills trust. But if the doors are open so you can see and find whatever is there, that transparency shows you whom you can trust, and thus is a key part of rebuilding a bruised nation.


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