Changes in law block right to know

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I've been in this business longer than I like to admit and over the years seen information once regarded as "public" nearly dry up and blow away.

I'm not really referring to public meetings and that sort of news events. This is about the courts and law enforcement.

Your's truly started out in the newspaper business covering "the police beat." That wasn't my goal, but due to the unexpected illness of the "cop" reporter ... there I was new and straight out of MTSU.

I did know better than march into the police department and start making demands. It was a more of a "you all got any news?" approach that gradually paid off as the officers got used to me and vice versa.

In those days, I was presented with a stack of reports including everything the department had covered in the last 24 hours. Those reports ranged from shoplifting on up to accident reports and major crimes.

If I found anything of interest, I would talk to a detective or the police chief to find out how significant the item was and if it was to gain enough information to write a story.

It wasn't easy. We had a deadline in the early afternoon, so hustling was required.

Soon I invested in a police scanner so I could keep up with the news after work hours. There was the occasional late night events including fires, drug busts and major crimes like crazy burglaries and violent crimes including homicides. Getting over that kind of crime scene wasn't easy.

Eventually, access to crime scenes began to change. Those changes went hand-in-hand with improvement in forensic services especially if the TBI was called.

I can understand why reporters and photographers can't be allowed on crime scenes these days ... contamination. But still things are completely different when it comes to news gathering. Crime, at least in Cannon and probably most counties, is now a closed matter. Blame it on court rulings and changes in Tennessee's Sunshine Law.

The public's "right to know" is just about gone no matter how you word it.

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Mike West column
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