We've started to get calls — one here, one there; more a trickle than a flood — from chagrined teachers around Texas who've discovered that when they Google themselves, the first thing that comes up is their salary information in our database of public employee pay. And they don't much like it. They think we've somehow violated their privacy or, worse, put them at risk of harm to life and limb. Not surprisingly, they want to us to remove them from the database immediately.
Other kinds of public employees have called too. I just hung up with the wife of one who considers our decision to publish this information to be not just a violation but "rape." She's insisting that we pull the database off our site immediately.
No can do. Or more accurately, no will do.
Let me assure the hardworking, good-hearted public employees out there — not just those with enough idle time to sit around Googling themselves, but all public employees — that we come in peace. The information contained in that database is public. It's accessible to anyone, not just snooping journalists, and was lawfully and rather easily obtained from government agencies and schools simply by asking for it. It is one of nearly 30 databases that we've published and made available to our readers near and far since our November 3 launch, and it's a key part of our information-as-journalism strategy.
We believe in the power of data. We believe in the value of creating more thoughtful, engaged, and informed citizens by giving them the tools to be those things and more (we believe in teaching a man to fish rather than giving him a fish). We believe that in a state with so many employees and so much payroll but so few resources for health and human services, higher education, etc., we have a right to know who's being paid what. It's one way, maybe the only way, to ensure that our elected biggies are doing right by us and our increasingly scarce tax dollars. And it ensures that those of you out there who are paid by the state or another public entity aren't treated unfairly by your bosses relative to the guy in the next cubicle or the lady in the office down the hall. It gives you negotiating power at raise and hiring time, or at least it should.
What we don't believe is that we're violating anyone's privacy by printing public information. It's already out there; we're merely the delivery device.
Is it fun to have your salary published? No. It wasn't fun for me when mine and that of several of my colleagues was published before the Trib launched last fall, and it hasn't been fun every time some ill-wisher has republished them on Facebook or in some random blog. But as nonprofit workers who enjoy the fruits of a 501(c)3 status, we have an obligation to take the good with the bad. We say, and believe, that we work for the people. We are, effectively, public employees.
Well, our momentarily unhappy correspondents are literally public employees. That means what they make is public. And that means we're going to be in the business of telling everyone what they make.
Hell, who knows? There might be a public outcry over how little they're paid. They might even get a better salary out of it.
In all seriousness: No disrespect intended. Transparency and open government, however, are absolutely intended.