Confidential sources are a necessary evil for news reporters working to keep the public informed about the clandestine doings of government officials. Individuals with sensitive information about powerful people or government wrongdoing will sometimes talk only if assured they will remain anonymous. That's why Congress should enact a federal shield law giving reporters a qualified privilege to withhold the identity of confidential sources. It would serve the public interest in honest, accountable government.
Recovery School District staff wanted to put a gag on teachers and other employees when it comes to talking to reporters, but Superintendent Paul Vallas put a swift end to that misguided plan.
District staff members asked the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which oversees the state-run district, to approve disciplinary measures for employees who spoke to reporters during work time or without permission from the communications office. But Mr. Vallas jumped in at Tuesday's meeting and withdrew the request. He called the proposal "unacceptable."
He even went a step further, saying people shouldn't have to file formal, written public information requests - something most public agencies require. Residents and reporters should be able to simply ask for information, he said, and staff should provide it, as long as student confidentiality is not compromised.
"The more information you put out, the better publicity you are going to get," Mr. Vallas said.
He's right, but many other public officials haven't figured out that restricting information is a bad, self-defeating policy. Other agencies and local governments could learn a thing or two from Mr. Vallas about the value of transparency. Getting information on everything from recovery plans to crime is important for residents.
Mr. Vallas could have easily adopted a less forthright approach. The Recovery School District faces enormous challenges running 22 schools in a city that's still recovering from a disaster, and he has an ambitious set of goals. Welcoming public scrutiny could be seen as risky.
But if the result is an involved, informed public, it's a risk that's worth taking.
- Times-Picayune (New Orleans)