What is MassTransparency?

What is MassTransparency?
"William Caxton--Examining First Proof Sheet from His Printing Press in Westminster Abbey, A.D. 1474" by Frederick Bacon. Image courtesy Smithsonian Open Access.

MassTransparency is a transparency-focused journalism effort for state, local, and regional activities. The difference between this and, say, MuckRock or the New England First Amendment Coalition is the broader focus on public records as an information device. That there are real stories to be told in the documents of an open government, and that the best way to discover those stories is through specific targeted projects with a foundation in public records and other resident-facing materials.

I also want to treat this as a resource for the public. Public records requests are not difficult, but they are complicated. Some municipalities are not transparent on the processes, others try to filter you into uncooperative portals, others still do not publicly list the records access officer in a conspicuous manner. Long-term (next 6-12 months), expect to see more robust tools to help you on your own project.

Who are you?

I'm Jeff Raymond of Millbury, MA. Former columnist for The Millbury-Sutton Chronicle, and editor over at The Bramanville Tribune. I also serve on local boards and organizations, and just try to make my hometown a better place to live.

What are public records?

In Massachusetts, public records are defined by statute as “all books, papers, maps, photographs, recorded tapes, financial statements, statistical tabulations, or other documentary materials or data, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by any officer or employee” of the Commonwealth.

In more layman's terms, the public has the right to know what its government and related agencies are doing, and, in general, the right to access the documents associated with that activity.

Why the focus on projects as opposed to individual incidents?

A project-by-project focus allows for stories to breathe, for narratives to develop.  It doesn't mean we won't be working on multiple threads at a time, but it does mean that we're not simply on a hunting expedition, either.

What kind of projects have you done so far?

  • POST Commission Police Disciplinary Records, including future-state creation of a dashboard and the actual complaint records.  Link currently goes to a master spreadsheet of all 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts along with county offices; does not currently include college/university departments.

What kind of projects are you considering?

The short answer is "anything."  Police records will likely lead the charge for the foreseeable future, as policing is notoriously secretive, but other projects I'm considering include:

  • The cartel-like state of school busing in Massachusetts
  • Book challenges and banning efforts
  • The role of town counsel organizations for various communities
  • Municipal support and efforts concerning electric vehicle charging
  • The organizations and firms providing support and advice to municipal agencies with limited accountability or public oversight

Of course, I may read a news story and get inspired - that's how the POST Commission work started - so, as always, card subject to change.

How often will you post?

Two-to-three times a month, on average.  This is not designed to take over your inbox unless news moves super quickly.  

How can I help?

There are a few ways:

  • Help with an existing project. Reach out to me, find out what I'm working on, and we can work together on figuring out how to tag team.
  • Suggest a new project. Have some information that you think needs a bigger focus? Want to provide some distance between something you're curious about and yourself? We can help.
  • Other forms of support. Are you good with data visualization?  Do you enjoy sorting information on a spreadsheet? Are you looking to build out a resume or your bylines? We've got room for you.
  • Spread the word. Share, subscribe, all that good stuff. The more people know, the better off we are.

As of September 2023, MassTransparency is not an organized nonprofit (or, in fact, much of an organized anything), but the eventual goal is to become a nonprofit and begin qualifying for grants and institutional support. Maybe even pay people!

What is Ghost?

Ghost is a newsletter/website landing page. It's similar to Substack in that the main driver is subscriber inboxes, but Ghost allows you more freedom with data and subscriptions, and doesn't take as much cash off the top for paid subscriptions (which MassTransparency doesn't currently have).  

I don't expect this to get huge, but I don't want to be locked into a specific vendor, either.  Thus, Ghost.