Week is dedicated to freedom of information
February 25, 2016
Sunshine Week, March 13-19, is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.
In 2015, Sunshine Week celebrated 10 years of success in promoting greater government transparency, in both actual practice and in general awareness of its importance.
To mark the anniversary, a few participants and observers were asked for their reflections on Sunshine Week.
• “The result of the voluminous [Sunshine Week] news coverage is that our nation’s governments—at all levels—are more accountable, more transparent, and more responsive to the people.” Dave Cuillier, Director and Associate Professor, School of Journalism, University of Arizona; former SPJ President and FOI Chair.
• “In New York, dozens of news organizations have recognized Sunshine Week, and the result is that legislation strengthening our FOI and Open Meetings Laws has been enacted in several instances since the first Sunshine Week.” Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director, New York State Department of State, Committee on Open Government.
• “Looking back, I would say drafting the ordinance ourselves and premiering it during Sunshine Week in an election year was a very powerful way to start. If we had simply written an editorial calling for open government in some random week in a non-election year (which, come to think of it, we had done many times), it would have gotten nowhere. You have to focus attention to get results, and we managed to do that.” Bert Robinson, Managing Editor/Content, Bay Area News Group, San Jose.
• “We did a series of stories that began on Sunshine Week detailing illegal copying fees at numerous municipalities. Our state open records law allows 25 cents per page. Many were charging a dollar or more, particularly for police records. Those stories continued as I followed up on those municipalities that weren’t in compliance. Ultimately, at least a half a dozen cities lowered their fees as a result of the story, including the state’s three largest cities: Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Norman.” Bryan Dean, Former Staff Writer, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City.
• “Sunshine Week got us thinking about how to step back and really educate readers and public officials on Freedom of Information. This project [grading police departments on compliance with access to blotters] accomplished that beyond our expectations, and ended up being a great piece of entrepreneurial journalism as well.” Matt DeRienzo, Former Group Editor, Digital First Media Publications, Connecticut.
Included on the Sunshine Week website is a toolkit. The Sunshine Week toolkit is a free resource available to any participant including, but not limited to, professional and student journalists working in any medium; bloggers; civic and non-profit organizations; schools; and government officials (for activities related to open government only; please do not use them for inferred political endorsements).
Please note that permission to use these materials covers only the seven days of Sunshine Week (March 13-19, 2016). However, authors and artists may grant special-use permission in cases of student newspapers, weeklies and others who may not be able to publish that week. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with individual requests.
As Sunshine Week nears, and sometimes during the week, more material will be added, so be sure to check back often.
For inspiration on the kind of work that can be done utilizing public information, please review the FOI in Action page, and peruse the Bright Ideas collections from past Sunshine Weeks. To see what was offered in earlier Toolkits, visit The Vault.
Sunshine Week 2016 is made possible thanks to the generous support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Bloomberg, and The Gridiron Club and Foundation. National coordinators are the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.