The Times West Virginian

Opinion

March 14, 2013

Transparency in government involves more than journalists

Each March, members of the media participate in Sunshine Week, a national initiative co-sponsored by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press that focuses on transparency for all levels of government.

But journalists aren’t the only ones involved. Participants can — and should — include government officials at all levels, schools and universities, libraries and archives, nonprofit and civic organizations, and historians.

In fact, any individual who has an interest in open government can be part of Sunshine Week. The coalition of supporters is broad and deep.

And as the website (www.sunshineweek.org) dedicated to promoting awareness of Sunshine Week points out, individual participation can make all the difference.

So how can you get involved? It’s simple: Do something to engage in a discussion about the importance of open government.

Maybe that means you attend a public forum or a classroom discussion.

Or maybe you read an article or series of articles about access to important information.

It doesn’t matter what you do. It just matters that you get involved in the process.

After all, Sunshine Week isn’t just for journalists on the trail of government conspiracy or wrongdoing. It’s for average people — business owners, homeowners or people who have an issue with an arrest.

Sometimes those average people come across brick walls while look­ing for public documents. But by using Sunshine Laws, they can take down those brick walls and effectively change the way their local gov­ernments do business to ensure the public has access to the documents and information they have the right to.

As newspapers, we try often to remind read­ers that journalists don’t have any super powers. We simply use the laws that keep information free and accessible to the public to report on the issues that matter to the public. And as journal­ists we, too, come across those brick walls and have to seek legal counsel or take the issue through the court system.

The ASNE chooses to observe Sunshine Week to include the March 16 birthday of Founding Father and author of the U.S. Constitution James Madison. It was he who wrote that “consent of the governed” requires that the people be able to “arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

Every day as journalists we attempt to arm our readers with information by covering open meetings, by looking at critical issues, by seek­ing and examining documents to look for trends or issues. We present the information and allow our readers to make decisions about who they vote for, what organizations they support, where they send their child to school or even where they choose to buy a home.

As long as the “sun” is shining, we can do that. And a cloud that blocks the sun or a shad­owy corner that happens when a government agency doesn’t understand freedom of informa­tion or open meeting laws will not discourage us from that mission. The torch that we carry, the public’s right to know, will brighten any dark spot.

This week and every single day, we celebrate those who blazed the trail before us, the tena­cious journalists and citizen warriors, who have continuously upheld each and every person’s right to “arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

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Opinion
  • COLUMN: Freedom of Information — if you can pay

    Several years ago, I made a Freedom of Information request to a local government agency. Within the five business days, as required by law, a packet of information was delivered to the office. I expected a bill, as most government offices have a charge that ranges from 25 cents to $1.25 per page for copies of the documents we request.

    April 20, 2014

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    During the sub-zero and snow-filled months of winter, we maintained a spirit of hope that spring was on the way. It has now become a reality as all nature stretches and yawns and awakens once more to a new beginning. The fragrance of spring awakens our waiting nostrils, the budding beauty of new life brightens our eyes, and the reassuring idea of renewal stimulates our minds.

    April 20, 2014

  • Unsung heroes handling calls in emergencies are appreciated

    Thankfully, we live in a community where help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just by dialing three numbers — 9-1-1.
    During this week, which is recognized as National Public Safety Tele-Communicator’s Week nationwide, we need to remember that on the other end of that line are the men and women here in this county who are always there in case of accident, crimes, medical emergencies and any other catastrophic event.

    April 18, 2014

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    April 17, 2014

  • State native Burwell can ‘deliver results’ as Health and Human Services secretary

    Sylvia Mathews Burwell might not be a name with which most people are immediately familiar.
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    Prior to that, she served as president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program and later the Wal-Mart Foundation.

    April 16, 2014

  • Marion scores well in recent health report but could do better

    When it comes to area-wide studies, especially on health, there’s usually good news and bad news.
    So was the recent report on the health of America’s counties released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently. The nationwide county study evaluated health outcomes and health factors, and ranked counties accordingly.

    April 13, 2014

  • COLUMN: ‘Instant’ news not always reliable

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    That little word has a pretty big meaning. With origins that date back to the 15th century, it means urgent, current, immediate.
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    April 11, 2014

  • Volunteers continue to have priceless impact on community

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    Marion County is full of volunteers.
    They read to our youth.
    They assist nonprofit agencies.
    They serve on boards and committees.
    And in 2013, they spent a day picking up nearly 10 tons of garbage that had been tossed out on public property around Marion County.

    April 10, 2014

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    West Virginia state law requires that students be in a classroom for 180 days.

    April 9, 2014

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