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Shed some light during Sunshine Week: ideas for fresh open-government editorials.

Sunshine Week, the annual celebration of open government, is upon us. March 16-22, news organizations across the nation will update readers and viewers on the status of open government. Editorials have a special role to play in that coverage.

Reporters will describe how easily citizens can gain access to public records and which local governing body is meeting in secret. They will quote experts and report the facts.

It is important work that helps create an informed public. What is missing, though, and what editorial pages can do best, is pull it all together. We can explain why openness matters to readers, why it is essential to a healthy democracy.

Government festers in the shadows. Exposing it to public scrutiny empowers citizens to hold their elected representatives accountable. We all know this, and many of us will write about it during Sunshine Week.

Unfortunately, many of us will also phone it in. Open government is good. Secrets are bad. We have all written that editorial many times, and it bores all but the most wonky readers.

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This year, NCEW's Open Government Committee urges you to spruce up your Sunshine Week musings. Spend a little time crafting something that makes this perennial issue fresh.

* This is an election year; find out where declared candidates stand. Ask the ones running for federal office what they think of the current state of things in Washington. Better yet, ask the local ones about access at city hall or the county building. Remind readers that open government should always be an election issue in every race.

* Redaction makes a visually interesting page. It quickly demonstrates how withholding key pieces of information can render something meaningless. Redact an editorial or print a redacted government document along with some explanation.

* There is still time to file a few FOI requests of your own. Get something interesting from local or state officials and share.

* Did you know that FOI requests are themselves typically subject to FOI requests? Find a local citizen who has been poking around. Make her and her research the centerpiece of an editorial. Demonstrate that open government laws exist to serve citizens, not just nosy journalists.

And check out the official Sunshine Week Website (sunshineweek.org). It has plenty of resources for enterprising writers tired of rewording the same old editorial.

Christian Trejbal is an editorial writer at The Roanoke Times in Virginia. Email: chris@ nightmare.org
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Author:Trejbal, Christian
Publication:The Masthead
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 22, 2008
Words:404
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