Bright Ideas for 2008

From tropical islands to snowy peaks, Sunshine spread across land March 16-22 as newspapers, broadcasters, online media, schools, libraries, public officials, civic groups and individuals celebrated open government with Sunshine Week 2008.

The theme, The Sunshine Campaign, was picked up by many — public officials and citizens alike — who used the occasion to talk about preserving and protecting access to government information and meetings. Others focused on special projects such as information audits or general education about how to get and use the records that rightfully belong to the people.

We’ve collected examples of the different ways people marked Sunshine Week 2008. The work is loosely grouped in the categories below. Where links are still viable, they are included.

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News/Editorial

The Baltimore Sun used more than 6,000 agency records to complete its investigation of the state’s victim compensation fund; it also wrote and editorialized about secrecy and access to government information.

A Brownsville (Texas) Herald editorial called for a federal FOIA ombudsman to have authority, strength, and independence, as originally intended by the OPEN Government Act.

The weekly Brunswick Beacon in Shallotte, N.C., ran a 14-page special Sunshine Week package, Shining the Light on Public Access to Government, that included the results of a countywide public records audit. For its work, the Beacon won the Henry Lee Weathers Freedom of Information Award from the N.C. Press Association.

The weekly Community Free Press in Springfield, Mo., conducted an audit of the Sunshine Law policies of 13 area public offices.

Dallas Morning News Citizen Watchdog columnist Jennifer LaFleur showed graphic examples, literally, of what the paper’s front pages would look like without access to government information and meetings.

The Washington (D.C.) Examiner ran an editorial calling on Sen. Hillary Clinton to deliver on the promises of transparency expressed in her response to the Sunshine Campaign survey of presidential candidates.

For the seventh year, the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors has posted Sunshine Sunday — and now Sunshine Week — editorials, cartoons, columns and other work by its members on a special Web page.

Free Press Newspapers, Wilmington, Ill., ran high-resolution versions of the Sunshine Week Web banner ads at the top of the front page.

Sunshine Week coverage from across the state has been posted online by the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association.

The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., presented a weeklong series that included charts tracking local candidates’ responses to a statewide open government survey.

The Press & Sun-Bulletin, Binghamton, N.Y., published the results of its FOI audit of 10 local school districts and also included the results, the documents and links to other open government resources on a special Web page.

The Roanoke (Va.) Times published a redacted text of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to make its point about censorship; the paper also featured several opinion columns on open government.

The Telegraph, Nashua, N.H., created a special Web page for its extensive Sunshine Week coverage, which includes audits, campaign news and a variety of opinion columns.

The Virginia Coalition for Open Government posted on its Web site news articles and commentaries from around the state that appeared during Sunshine Week.

Online/Multimedia

The American Society of Newspaper Editors and Sunshine Week teamed with The Creative Coalition and the Radio-Television News Directors Foundation to create public service ads featuring celebrities talking about open government.

Caleb Brown’s Daily Podcast for The Cato Institute featured a discussion of open government issues with Jerry Brito of the Mercatus Center.

Gannett News Service asked Washington tourists to answer questions about open government; video and quiz were available to all its newspapers and TV stations for Sunshine Week.

Citizen journalism site Helium launched its partnership with Sunshine Week to generate coverage of open government and FOI issues online.

The National Institute on Money in State Politics launched an interactive Committee Analysis Tool, a mash-up of state legislative committee rosters from Project Vote Smart and the Institute’s 50-state campaign donor data.

The Santa Fe (N.M.) Reporter released a new version of its MuckrakersGuide.com, an online “tool shed” for reporters and others to access links and resources for getting public records.

The Society of Professional Journalists posted Web pages offering Sunshine Week ideas and resources for use by SPJ chapters, in the classroom or by newsrooms in general.

Public Officials/Government

Gov. John E. Baldacci of Maine issued a Sunshine Week Proclamation.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. responded to the Sunshine Campaign Open Government Survey of Presidential Candidates.

Mayor Debbie Cook, Huntington Beach, Calif., issued a Sunshine Week Proclamation and honored volunteer organizer Larry Gallup at a city council meeting.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist recognized three high school students as winners of the 2008 Sunshine Week Essay Contest, proclaimed it Sunshine Week statewide and hosted state open government champions at reception.

Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced the OPEN FOIA Act requiring Congress to “explicitly and clearly” state its intentions to create any new(b)(3) exemptions to the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The Public Interest Declassification Board, an advisory committee to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, held a public hearing on its report, “Improving Declassification,” to coincide with Sunshine Week.

Torrance, Calif., Mayor Frank Scotto signed a Sunshine Week Proclamation.

Mayor Mark E. Wheetley of Arcata, California, proclaimed it Sunshine Week.

Events/Awards

American University Washington College of Law and the Program on Law and Government’s Collaboration on Government Secrecy hosted its first Freedom of Information Day Program.

The Association for Women in Communications-DC Chapter marked Sunshine Week with a networking reception and discussion of FOI issues with W*USA Channel 9 anchor Bruce Johnson, followed by a tour of the station.

At a Sunshine Week dinner at the National Press Club in Washington, Associated Press President and CEO Tom Curley called on the news media to step up the fight for openness in government.

The First Amendment Center held its 10th annual National Freedom of Information Day Conference, co-sponsored by Sunshine Week.

California First Amendment Coalition Executive Director Peter Scheer led a panel discussion following the L.A. Theatre Works production of the play “Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers”.

The League of Women Voters of Torrance, Calif., hosted an open government panel discussion and information fair; the chapter president also wrote a Sunshine Week letter to the Daily Breeze.

The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information hosted a free public FOI Day and awards ceremony at the Minneapolis Central Library; Jane Kirtley of the University of Minnesota was the keynote speaker.

The National Security Archive presented its “Rosemary Award” for Worst FOIA Performance to the U.S. Treasury Department.

The New Jersey Foundation for Open Government hosted two events, one featuring state lawmakers introducing public meetings law reforms, and the other a panel discussion at Rutgers University Newark Campus.

OpenTheGovernment.org and other groups sponsored the third annual Sunshine Week National Dialogue on Open Government and Secrecy, webcast from the National Press Club to sites around the country.

The Sunlight Foundation and Omidyar Network hosted a Sunshine Week lecture at the National Press Club by Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig, who outlined a plan to reform Congress.

Reports/Studies/Announcements

Mixed Signals, Mixed Results: How President Bush’s Executive Order on FOIA Failed to Deliver,” The Knight Open Government Survey, National Security Archive, Washington.

FOI in Practice: Measuring the Complexity of Information Requests and Quality of Government Responses in Mexico,” National Security Archive Mexico Project, Washington.

OMB Watch survey uncovered the top five open-government questions people want federal candidates to answer; results were published in the Sunshine Week report, “Top Open Government Questions for Candidates.”

By Students

High school students created :30 and :15 second broadcast PSAs in the Radio-Television News Directors Foundation 5 Freedoms Contest; videos were shown on SchoolTube and Channel One during Sunshine Week.

The Student Press Law Center produced several articles on students and open government issues, including its own audit of public school superintendent expenses in 15 school districts across the country.

Journalism students at the University of West Florida in Pensacola conducted a Sunshine Law compliance audit at state, county and local government offices.

For Students

The American Society of Newspaper Editors’ High School Journalism project created a lesson plan for high school students with an emphasis on Freedom of Information law and the First Amendment.

Ball State University hosted its fourth Sunshine Week event, featuring greetings from Sen. Richard Lugar and Rep. Mike Pence, followed by a panel discussion with an Iraqi filmmaker and Freedom of Information experts.

NewsU., in conjunction with the J-Ideas program at Ball State University, offered its free online training course that teaches the First Amendment to high school students.

The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer Newspaper In Education Program and the Washington Coalition for Open Government produced a special section called “Shining the Light on Your Government”.

Posted in Idea Bank

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