As a writer for the Federal government for more than a dozen years, I observe that we used to be very well-respected. Our authority derived from three things:
- Dedication to public service
- Command of the English language
- Collaboration with technical experts, for accuracy
The past decade saw the gradual erosion of government writers’ credibility, due to the rise of, among other things:
- Pervasive social media
- Increasingly sophisticated but easy to use digital communication tools
- Global awareness of and commitment to human rights
- The rise of independent journalism
- Existence of and retaliation against whistleblowers
Today, what remains of that credibility has arguably been shattered by:
- Awareness of “fake news”
- Revelations about the Deep State and its infiltration of the media
- Paid trolls
- Paid citizen “uprisings” and demonstrations
Essentially, we have entered a world where suspicion is the rule and not an exception. Government content is part of that. It doesn’t matter how many times the press release was checked for accuracy, or how many experts vetted it.
The people simply do not believe the government anymore.
In the old days, the worst thing you could do as a government writer was be inaccurate, or perhaps even to use bad grammar.
The biggest fights you’d have would center on plain language (which is now the law), as technical experts would accuse you of “oversimplifying” the facts, or even of “misrepresenting” them.
And if it took a long time get words out the door, it was because all the parties involved were haggling over the specifications and implications of language.
Today, anyone engaged in such a conversation is missing the forest for the trees.
The major problem confronting us is restoring the credibility of government itself.
How are we going to do that?
Not by punishing the writers.
But by starting a conversation about what it is the writers ought to be doing.
All opinions my own.
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