The publication of the government’s ‘transparency database’ this week is the latest policy change aimed at creating greater levels of transparency about public services and spending.
But while, from the voter’s point of view, the availability of more data looks like an unqualified good, the state of public service reporting presents a more complicated picture that highlights a wider issue about the future of journalism.
Traditional public policy reporting has been particularly hard hit by the crisis in journalism, with the publications that provide close scrutiny either folding or becoming so cash-strapped that staff devote themselves more to ‘churnalism’ than investigation. Their ad revenues are likely to fall further as the squeeze on public spending and government caps on public sector advertising budgets kick in.
Meanwhile, the new tools that are emerging to reveal the workings of the public sphere bring greater opportunities for the citizen reporter. Innovative approaches such as the Armchair Auditor have been widely welcomed. And, as Laura Oliver points out, the transparency database opens up new channels for professional journalists.
But, without sufficient resources to interpret what’s going on behind the data, will it still be possible to tell a coherent story about public services? All of which raises a key question about the changing state of journalism in Britain – how far can the new models deliver?