Leadership

Let The Sunshine In: Groups Leverage Sunshine Week's Bright Light

By / Mar 18, 2015 (iStock/Thinkstock)

The 10th anniversary of Sunshine Week, an effort by journalism and free-speech groups to highlight the value of open government, is doing more than shining a light on government failings. It’s showcasing the collective strength of the Fourth Estate.

Over the past decade, the sunshine has only gotten brighter.

Every year since 2005, the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) has been helping draw attention to open-records issues during the third week in March—timed to honor the birth of James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights.

Sunshine Week—which started as Sunshine Sunday, conceived by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors in 2002—was launched by ASNE in 2005. The educational event became more elaborate after the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) decided to hop aboard in 2011 as a co-coordinator.

This year, Sunshine Week highlights the journalism profession’s coordination on the issue of government transparency. ASNE—in collaboration with the Associated Press, McClatchy, USA Today, and Gannett—created an extensive editorial package in honor of the event’s 10th anniversary as a national initiative. It includes columns, news stories, editorial cartoons, and infographics.

“It’s incredibly easy for an agency that doesn’t want certain records to be exposed to impose fees in the hopes that the requester is dissuaded,” RCFP fellow Adam Marshall said in an interview with the AP. “If the people don’t know what’s going on, either because they don’t have direct access to information or because the media isn’t able to provide them with access to information about what their government is doing, it’s impossible for the people to exercise any sense of informed self-governance.”

Among the numerous other groups playing active roles in this year’s Sunshine Week:

Society of Professional Journalists. SPJ, which says one of its main roles is to help “shine light into the dark recesses of government secrecy,” offers resources to members of the media to assist them in making Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. They include a list of experts who can provide quotes, which could come in handy for those on deadline looking to report about an information-access issue.

The Sunlight Foundation. It’s probably not a surprise, considering the organization is focused on accountability and transparency in government year-round, that the Sunlight Foundation is playing an active role in promoting Sunshine Week. This year, the foundation is highlighting its efforts to reform FOIA. “The Freedom of Information Act has long existed as the bedrock for the public’s access to government information,” the foundation’s Matthew Rumsey and Evan Mackinder write on the organization’s blog. “But it’s also been simultaneously plagued by asterisks, including overly broad exemptions, ridiculous fees, and other unnecessary provisions designed to obscure transparency.” The foundation is encouraging the public to call members of Congress and encourage them to pass FOIA reform.

Electronic Frontier Foundation. It’s the kind of award that government officials win when freedom of information loses. This week, EFF is hosting the Foilies awards, which highlight failed attempts to access relevant materials due to reasons such as excessive costs, lack of digitization, or—in one case—flood. EFF is joining with the Sunlight Foundation and Muckrock to hand out the awards at an event on Thursday. Check out some of the “winners” so far.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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