A voter is seen entering the Grady County Election Board building in Chickasha on Nov. 2, 2018, the second day of early voting. Credit: Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Since I began my journalism career more than a decade ago, all I wanted to do was be a political reporter.

While it’s not always pretty witnessing up close how government or politics works — or in many cases, doesn’t work — the political beat puts you squarely in the front row of watching history.

But over the past years I’ve watched some alarming trend both here and on the national level: Democratic norms are being chipped away, facts are being challenged and political divisions are intensifying.

From the failed Jan. 6 Capitol attack to battling through another year of a global pandemic, this has especially been true in the last couple years. And with the midterm elections coming this year and another presidential vote in 2024, these issues won’t be going away anytime soon.

If anything these times have reinforced a guiding philosophy: Facts matter and democracy is worth protecting. 

That’s why I’m glad to announce that I’ll be joining the increasing number of reporters across the country who are taking up the democracy beat.

What does that mean?

I’ll continue reporting about politics and state government, but it will be through a lens focused on how underserved groups can have a greater voice in politics, what election access and security really mean and how money and corrosive influences impact laws and policies.

I’ll also be focusing on identifying and combating misinformation or disinformation being spread by people in power, including our elected leaders.

I did that when I recently wrote about the role religion plays in Oklahoma’s low vaccination rates and how a year after the Jan. 6 attack, Republicans in Oklahoma continue to push false information about the 2020 presidential election.

This isn’t gotcha journalism. This is about refusing to let falsehoods — whether they are made intentionally or not — spread freely. And in my view, democracy only works with an informed public so an attack on truth, facts and science is an attack on democracy.

In a recent piece advocating more journalists take up the democracy beat, Andrew Donohue, managing editor of the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal, added some advice that I plan to follow.

“These reporters won’t see their work in terms of politics or parties, but instead through the lens of honesty, fairness, and transparency,” he wrote. “They’ll cover something that is, at its heart, a local story. It will unfold far from the spotlights of Washington. And it will do the most basic and vital things that journalism is supposed to do: Safeguard democracy. Tell the truth.”

Help me build out this beat. Are there issues or topics you’d like to see us report on? Send me story tips or ideas at tbrown@oklahomawatch.org of find me on Twitter at @tbrownokc.

The Top Story
Noble resident Erika Wright and her daughter, Vivi Wright, read together at the public library after school on Jan. 6, 2022. Wright recently changed her voter registration from Independent to Republican to vote in the State Superintendents race this summer. She said education issues are too important not to use her voice. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

Inside A Potentially One-Sided Race for State Superintendent

Three candidates have announced plans to run for state superintendent of public instruction. All are Republicans: John Cox, Peggs Public Schools superintendent; April Grace, Shawnee Public Schools superintendent; and Ryan Walters, state Secretary of Education.  

Oklahoma Watch‘s Jennifer Palmer reports that with no Democrats running (at least not yet), the race would be over before the general election in November, decided only by registered Republicans. [Read More …]

Tweet Watch

This is the type of bill I plan to closely monitor as part of our new democracy beat.

I know citizens — including reporters — across the state already have trouble securing public records from state and local governments. This bill, if it were to pass, would make it harder, and costly to get those records.

These are your records.

What I’m Reading This Week

  • As the pandemic enters its third year, Oklahoma officials and candidates for office continue to spread inaccurate information.  [The Frontier]
  • Oklahoma’s political leaders praised Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision blocking a Biden administration COVID-19 vaccinate-or-test order for large employers while also indicating disappointment that the court left in place a similar mandate for most health care workers. [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma is set to receive $266.9 million to improve its bridges as part of a new funding program being launched by the U.S. Department of Transportation.  [The Oklahoman]
  • It’s hard to pinpoint where COVID-19 transmission is highest right now due to the omicron variant, Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Bruce Dart said Wednesday, because “it is just everywhere.” [Tulsa World]
  • Unvaccinated people were more likely to test positive for COVID-19, more likely to be hospitalized and more likely to die of the disease compared with those who have been vaccinated, a new study from the State Health Department shows. [Oklahoman]

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During times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, Oklahoma needs high-quality investigative journalism. That is our mission at Oklahoma Watch. We produce stories that hold government and public officials accountable and that make transparent what some prefer to keep secret. We depend on financial support from readers like you to sustain our coverage. Help us make a difference.

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