Write an editorial. Hold a public forum. Test the openness of your university’s records. These are ways student journalists can take up the banner of access and open records during Sunshine Week 2006, held this year March 12-18.
While working journalists deal with open records issues on a daily basis, Sunshine Week is “not just for professionals,” said Debra Gersh Hernandez, coordinator for the week’s events.
Student journalists at the high school and university level should participate and understand the issues, Hernandez said, because the implications of closed records and closed government are immediate. “These are issues dealing with health, safety and security, and we need information about those areas to have a healthy, happy community,” she said.
During Sunshine Week, participating daily and weekly newspapers, magazines, online sites and radio and television broadcasters run editorials, op-ed columns, editorial cartoons, public forums and news and feature stories that drive public discussion about why open government is important to everyone, not just to journalists.
Organizers of the week announced yesterday that Hodding Carter III — an award-winning print and broadcast journalist, former State Department spokesman, and past president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation — has joined the Sunshine Week national open government initiative as honorary chairman for 2006.
In his role as honorary chairman, Carter will serve as a national spokesman for the Sunshine Week initiative, which highlights the importance of preserving open government. In addition, Carter will serve as an adviser to the national Sunshine Week Executive Committee and coordination staff.
Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, serves on the Sunshine Week steering committee.
Hernandez said that, for student journalists, participating in Sunshine Week and pursuing open government year-round is a “wonderful training exercise in practicing skills they will use as professional journalists.”
Several new programs are planned for Sunshine Week. They include;
- Publication of the first “Bright Ideas” book, featuring examples of some different approaches to Sunshine Week coverage and events from 2005. The book, which will be available in a limited number of print copies, is downloadable from the Sunshine Week Web site (www.sunshineweek.org/sunshineweek/brightideas06).
- On March 17, the PBS weekly newsmagazine “NOW” will air a one-hour special about government secrecy as part of Sunshine Week. In “The Sunshine Gang,” “NOW” will focus on the erosion of open government in America through the stories of whistleblowers.
- A national teleforum on Monday, March 13, that will examine the question, “Are We Safer in the Dark?” The panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington, moderated by Geneva Overholser of the Missouri School of Journalism’s Washington bureau, will be fed via satellite to host locations across the country. Following the national program, those sites will engage in discussions of openness issues particular to their states and communities.
- A national survey looking at public perception of open government issues, conducted by the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.
Hernandez said that last year for Sunshine Week, the Black College Wire service ran a series of articles on access and open government. Also, the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Web hosting service for high school newspapers posted a lesson plan on Sunshine Week issues.
The work of student journalists to get information from their schools or local governments is particularly important, Hernandez said, because they have the task of informing other students about the issues.
“In terms of the job that students journalists do, which is informing and educating their fellow students, it’s important for journalists to let them know what are the things they need to know,” she said.
Sunshine Week, in its second year, is led by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and is funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
For the five days of Sunshine Week in March, the Student Press Law Center will be issuing a series of articles, updates and profiles of the people and issues involved with the fight for access and open records in the student press.
—by Allison Retka, SPLC staff writer