Carl phoned me a few minutes ago with a criticism of how The Star covered possible cuts to the police department in today's story on the upcoming budget.
"They always want to use their scare tactics to tell you if they don't raise taxes or get money some other way, they're going to cut the most important parts of the budget first," he said. "I think The Star should just print the whole city budget and go line by line, to show the public how many assistant city managers and other jobs are out there (that) they could cut first, or give pay cuts or whatever, instead of taking officers off the streets. They want a bargaining chip and the paper should tell us there are other places."
That's a good point: Journalists should never take anyone's word at face value. In this case, the report given to the board includes figures that lay out the possible ramifications in detail -- but of course Carl is right that there are obviously other ways the department could cut.
This is a double-edged sword. Journalists don't have any operational role in creating those budgets, obviously, but they can alert the public to what's being planned. And if the paper chose not to report on those possible "worst case scenarios," the public would be rightly outraged if they came to pass.
But the caller's overall point is a very good one: The press shouldn't simply be a mouthpiece for the "official" position on anything. This is a case where journalists need to give citizens the most raw tools available to make their own determinations, and then it's up to the public to let their elected officials know how they feel about it.