Sunshine Week 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, we asked a few participants and observers for their reflections on Sunshine Week. (Send yours to sunshineweek [at] asne.org.)
- “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.” (read more) 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.” (read more) 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.” (read more) 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.” (read more) 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.” (read more) Matt DeRienzo, Former Group Editor, Digital First Media Publications, Connecticut
At the 2015 FOIA Day at The Newseum in Washington, D.C., a panel discussed Sunshine Week’s genesis and growth. Video is below.
The History of Sunshine Week
The Florida Society of Newspaper Editors launched Sunshine Sunday in 2002 in response to efforts by some Florida legislators to create scores of new exemptions to the state’s public records law. FSNE estimates that some 300 exemptions to open government laws were defeated in the legislative sessions that followed its three Sunshine Sundays, because of the increased public and legislative awareness that resulted from the Sunshine Sunday reports and commentary.
Several states followed Florida’s lead, and in June 2003, ASNE hosted a Freedom of Information Summit in Washington where the seeds for Sunshine Week were planted.
With an inaugural grant from John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which has continued to support the effort, Sunshine Week was launched by the American Society of News Editors in March 2005. This non-partisan, non-profit initiative is celebrated in mid-March each year to coincide with James Madison’s birthday on March 16.
In 2011, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press joined ASNE as a national co-coordinator of Sunshine Week, enabling the organizations to join forces and resources to produce Toolkit materials for participants and keep the website and social media sites engaged.
Though created by journalists, Sunshine Week is about the public’s right to know what its government is doing, and why.
In 2013, then-ASNE FOI Committee Co-chairs Andrew Alexander and Tim Franklin talked about why Sunshine Week is important and what participants can do during the week. Video is below.
Former ASNE FOI co-chairs Andrew Alexander and Tim Franklin discuss Sunshine Week 2013.
Sunshine Week seeks to enlighten and empower people to play an active role in their government at all levels, and to give them access to information that makes their lives better and their communities stronger.
Participants include news media, government officials at all levels, schools and universities, libraries and archives, individuals, non-profit and civic organizations, historians and anyone with an interest in open government.
Everyone can be a part of Sunshine Week. Our coalition of supporters is broad and deep. And individual participation can make all the difference.
The only requirement is that you do something to engage in a discussion about the importance of open government. It could be a large public forum or a classroom discussion, an article or series of articles about access to important information, or an editorial.
The extent to which you participate is up to you, but we’d like to know about it so we can recognize your efforts. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the news.
The coverage, commentaries and activities promoting open government during Sunshine Week have led to tangible, meaningful changes to people’s lives and the laws that govern them.
The Sunshine Week initiative is increasing public awareness, it’s coming up more often in policy conversations, and the efforts of participants are being cited as real forces for moving the public away from simply accepting excessive and unwarranted government secrecy.