Guest post by Jessica Rudis

Two of the biggest announcements made at PDF this year complement each other in an interesting way. The first announcement, made on Monday, was that YouTube had launched a reporting center that teaches citizen journalists skills to improve the quality of their reporting.  The second announcement, and perhaps the biggest news to come out of the conference, was that the U.S. Government has launched a project to increase transparency and accountability, providing open data on a new Web site.

These are complementary because, of course, any properly functioning democracy needs to have an informed citizenry.  For years, people have relied on media gatekeepers to set the national agenda, inform them of current events, and act as government watchdogs.  Of course this has changed in recent years, but it will be exciting to see things change even more when citizens are taught how to be better reporters and given the data necessary to track government spending and activity.

Having an army of citizens to monitor government data and report on what’s going on would be a great thing.  It won’t diminish the role of traditional journalism because there will always be a need for serious investigative journalism.  Journalists will still need to go deeper than what is handed to them to make sure the data is accurate, numbers aren’t being fudged, and that secrets aren’t being kept.  The government may say it is being open and transparent, but it is up to journalists to ensure that that is really the case.

One of the themes of this conference, We.Gov, is becoming a reality.  As long as people stay interested in looking at the government data online (which may be hard, with things like the “Charlie Bit Me” video as competition for attention), we can participate more in our government than any generation before us.  We have already proven that citizen participation on the Internet can affect the tone and impact a political campaign, now we have the opportunity to use the Internet to directly affect policy-making as well.