Celebrating Sunshine Week

16 Mar

Happy Sunshine Week! This week, spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors, is celebrated in professional newsrooms across the country as a way to “promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.”

Its purpose isn’t limited to paid journalists, however. The Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] is an invaluable tool for student journalists working on any number of pieces–articles about the school board’s latest budget crisis, or deeper investigative stories [perhaps about a school district employee who robbed a few banks and spent his vacation days in jail]

The principle of open government allows me to spend three hours at a thrilling board finance meeting, as I did last night. While the meeting itself may not be the most exciting event, this transparency allows me to report on controversial subjects for my community, and it’s imperative that student journalists take advantage of this right.

During a session on the FOIA last year at CSPA, SPLC executive director Frank LoMonte gave the class great advice: go to your local courthouse and request all records of lawsuits involving your district. You may find something newsworthy, or you may not, but simply exercising your FOIA rights is worth the trip.

Once you have mastered filling out FOIA forms–you can find a template here, from the SPLC–it’s also your responsibility to teach what you know.

I spent class today going over an interactive PowerPoint with my reporters, which I published below. You may consider using this for your classroom, or follow this great lesson plan made by someone from the American Society of News Editors.

Most of my reporters will not write investigative stories, but I hope that the lesson at least inspired them to think about government transparency. The interactive activities also have ethical components, from which all reporters can benefit.

*Teaching note: In the second-to-last slide, there’s a link to a great Sunshine Week game. Unfortunately, when I tried to bring the site up, it was blocked by my public school, even on my adviser’s account [which allows YouTube].

Meghan Morris can be reached at mmorris@stoganews.com.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.