How the News Could be Better

Laws and government actions play a strong role in determining the course of events in a nation, but receive little coverage when the press reports on national events. For example, when it’s reported that one person has killed another person, a news article won’t quote the murder laws so that we can understand the terms for accountability. When fires consume homes in California, specific zoning and environmental laws won’t be referenced in a way that anyone could look up — even though the law might account for why burnt houses were positioned in fire prone areas and why those areas have become vulnerable to fire.

If we assume that government agencies have the causal agency to govern what they’re supposed to govern, the average reader is left severely under-informed in the standard reporting on events. We’re subject to the law’s effects, but what don’t know what the law is. If we accept that large groups of people bound together by shared objectives and placed in positions of power — i.e. institutions — can make things happen, we should take an interest in understanding how day-to-day events could be the outcome of institutional policies. We should know which laws are relevant to an event under discussion, who passed the law, whether we want to change the law, and how we want to change the law by pointing to specific passages.

So, here’s what I propose. Let’s make it easy to access our laws, so that we can relate them to the current events we see happening in the world. Let’s make it easy to interpret day-to-day reporting through a lens of public policy. Let’s anchor partisan conversations to the text of legal documents. We might disagree on the correct interpretation of our laws, but we shouldn’t disagree about the words on the page. We might disagree about the likely effects of a new policy, but we should be able to agree about the content of the policy. Our laws determine our lives’ trajectory. We can’t steer the ship, if we don’t know where to the find the wheel.