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Citizens need a base of common knowledge

Tuesday’s MinnPost carried a noteworthy commentary (“MN shortfalls: We can’t go on like this”) by a quartet of community leaders who, with a common voice, reminded us that Minnesotans and our leaders “need to invest smartly in education, job training, transportation and human capital. To do this we need to think again, as the generation before us did, as well-rounded citizens willing to invest in and nourish the common good.”

The vocal foursome was Marcia Avner, public policy director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits; Brian Rusche, executive director of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition; Dane Smith, president of the Growth & Justice think tank; and Ray Waldron, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO. When these folks speak in unison, it behooves one to listen.

What is implicit in their comments is a base of common knowledge shared by those “well-rounded citizens willing to invest in and nourish the common good.”

In this information age that base of common knowledge is at terrible risk. Today New York Post owner Rupert Murdoch is in talks to buy Newsday, another New York newspaper, as his managing editor at the Wall Street Journal tendered his resignation. Today the mainstream print media in the Twin Cities languish as owners sacrifice journalistic standards to stockholders’ fiscal demands.

Today our community’s professional journalists work in tandem with citizen journalists to cover, interpret, and share with a changing public a range of news and views and understandings of a world — and neighborhoods — in flux. Those outside the digital loop resort to the only sources of information they can afford: a mix of radio and TV owned and ruled by a dwindling circle of people who know only too well the power of information.

Timely, reliable information is critical

The life-giving force of this community of well-rounded citizens committed to the common good is the free flow of reliable, timely, relevant information — cogent analysis of the decisionmaking process, accurate data on the impact of public policy and the living conditions of Minnesotans, serious research on the goods and products that build a robust economy, a communal eye on the flow of power and money and influence.

Minnesotans care about transparency in government, access to information and the threats to continued access. But the commitment to understand and nourish the common good demands individual and collective time and mental energy.

These four leaders remind us of another essential nutrient of the common good:  “As citizens, we need to make room for elected leaders to do what many of them know to be right for Minnesota.”

Information blossoms as knowledge and ideas are shared. That’s something to ponder as we celebrate statehood and honor our heritage of “well rounded Minnesotans willing to invest in and nourish the common good.”

Mary Treacy is executive director of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information and a member of the Minnesota News Council. The original version of this article appeared on the MN COGI’s blog.

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