Welcome CACS to the Coffee House

Alex Morrison
on July 12, 2011

The Economist has insightfully likened the current state of the news industry to a return to the 18th century coffee house. In those days, before anyone thought to defray the cost of pamphlet distribution with advertising, circulation was low and people gathered at coffee houses to read and discuss the rags. News was “participatory, social, diverse and partisan” – and the Internet is making it that way again.

We agree that this is good, though the news industry shakeup has slashed the budgets of many excellent publications and reduced their capacity to perform investigative work – arguably the most important kind of reporting. However, this void is being filled by a “growing band of non-profit outfits such as ProPublica, the Sunlight Foundation and WikiLeaks” as the Economist explains.

Let’s welcome another hombre to this gang. Today California Common Sense launched its Transparency Portal, allowing Californians to explore their state’s finances and measure its workings against those of other states. To our knowledge this is the most ambitious attempt at collecting and presenting state government financial data.

Our conversations with California Common Sense (CACS) have been inspiring, and we hope that their militantly non-partisan approach will help stem another danger of news’ return to the coffee house – hyper-partisanship. While having a point of view is important for individuals and can even be a good thing for news organizations, stridently twisting facts and data to reinforce those views and heeding only likeminded sources creates a vicious cycle.

As Tom Paine might Tweet, “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right #thedataiscoming @cacsdotorg."

Good luck CACS. Have fun in the coffee house.