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Let the Sunshine in

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by Stan Zoller
In the musical “Hair,”  they sang about letting the sunshine in.

John Denver sang about sunshine on his shoulders.

Next week journalists will be heralding sunshine not because Spring is (supposedly) around the corner but because it’s the ninth annual “Sunshine Week,” a week dedicate to ensuring open and transparent government.

According to the American Society of News Editors, Sunshine Week was “…Launched in 2005 and partnered with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in 2012, Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.”

Sunshine Week 2014 is made possible by an endowment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and by generous donations from Bloomberg and the Gridiron Club and Foundation.

Sunshine Week, and other events like it, are essential to call attention to the need for open government.  And this includes School Boards. Advisers and student journalists need to not understand the keys to open government, but practice them as well. It’s likely that there are some advisers who may not want to pursue transparency from a school board because they fear retribution for their actions.  Conversely, some veteran advisers might have the attitude that it’s best to leave well enough alone.

Both practices are wrong.  In addition to producing a publication, broadcast or website, journalism educators have a fiduciary responsibility to take the lead in promoting transparency in government and should expect their students to do likewise.  I had a discussion recently with an adviser who said the role of a school paper was to highlight student achievement and the positives at school.

Granted, that is a role of a student media outlet, but it is not the role of student media.  A school newspaper, for example, is a community newspaper, and like any newspaper, it needs to inform the news consumers about what is happening in that community.

Much in the same way as the local paper covers city hall, school media needs to be able its city hall – whether the principal’s office or school board with the expectations that are receiving full information.  Just because Claire or Jimmy are student journalists does not preclude them from dealing with government officials as any journalist would.  Public officials need to be transparent with all media and everyone in the community whether it is disclosure at an open meeting, releasing public information or addressing all issues with the student press.

Struck on how to teach “Sunshine Week?”  ASNE says “…Another great resource you may find useful is the “Schools & Colleges” page, which features resources for student journalists who want to learn more about open government. The page also links to lesson plans, activities and events that ASNE’s Youth Journalism Initiative has prepared on SchoolJournalism.org to help high school students and teachers bring Sunshine Week 2014 into their journalism classrooms.”

The professional media gets it.  So should high school journalism teachers.  Make sure your students know the importance of letting the sunshine in.

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