Today is the last day of Sunshine Week, and it’s a good to recognize why newspapers do the job they do.
Started in March 2005, Sunshine week this year is March 16-22. It’s the result of a national initiative aimed at promoting dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.
Created by the American Society of News Editors, it is celebrated each March, and not just by journalists. It’s recognized by government officials, schools and universities, nonprofits, civic organizations and anyone else who is mindful of the freedoms that we as Americans enjoy.
It’s the newspaper’s responsibility to empower readers by providing them with the information they need to draw their own conclusions and, in some cases, take action to change the way things are done.
Because of our First Amendment, American citizens have the enviable right to know what our government representatives are doing, and how every penny of our tax dollars are being spent.
There remain countries in the world who don’t enjoy these rights. Too often, some of us take them for granted.
While the daily activities of government at every level can range from the mundane to near-soap-opera proportions, it’s vital that members of the public do their job and stay informed. That means taking the time to read the local newspaper.
It’s everyone’s responsibility to pay attention and to hold their public servants accountable. Yes, some consider the newspaper as a pain in the behind at times. When we see what we suspect to be an attempt to withhold public information, it’s our responsibility to take action. Requesting documents under the Freedom of Information Act [FOIA], or the state’s Public Records Act are among the best tools available to the media and private citizens.
While the process of obtaining public records can sometimes be long and arduous, it allows access to information that the public has every right to see.
The Public Records Act is the reason why cities are required to make their annual budget public. It’s why council meetings must be held in public, except under very limited circumstances. Any votes must occur in the public eye.
As a newspaper, we will continue to do our job and ask that you do yours as well. Stay informed, be an active participant in your government and demand access to public documents.
And always ask questions.
That’s how freedom works.