Sunday, March 15, 2009

More on Sunshine Week: National Roundup

We’ve said that Michigan feels like a laggard in terms of public records and transparency. We’ve even got four counties that have absolutely no online presence, which is at least a start. But according to a new report from the Associated Press, Michigan fares pretty well against its peers in terms of records posted online. The state is actually doing well, we have noticed, if one wants to take the time to dig into its many sites. But most folks don’t have the time or inclination to do that digging, leaving it to folks like us to help them. There should be an office, not related to the government, that would gather the information, put it into a simple form, and post it on a regular basis. Newspapers no longer allow a staff the time or resources to do this. Any ideas how to get this done?
The story that accompanies the graphic above does a fair job of giving the state of open records today. There are plenty of Sunday op-eds and stories on the issue to celebrate Sunshine Week (which we believe should be every week).
The Arizona Republic reports on its state’s high rating in terms of online accessibility while the Oklahoman decries the failure of some of its cities in online open records access. In Louisiana, it was found that Gov. Bobby Jindal isn’t very transparent even after all his campaign promises.
In Jackson, Mississippi, the alternative weekly Jackson Free Press calls it right, taking Jackson’s paper of record, the Gannett-owned Clarion-Ledger to task for its flaccid reporting and lack of knowledge of the state’s Sunshine laws.
Support of this open government is not a gutsy call for news organizations; it’s kind of like being against poverty. We’re all against, it. What are you going to do about it? We don’t recall any of these major corporations that now own most newspapers hiring lobbyists to advocate for better, more complete open records access and enforcement. Gannett had revenue last year of $6.7 billion. Scripps a paltry $1 billion. And astute Reuters tech and media editor Tiffany Wu posits that NBC Universal could be worth $30 billion. And none can spare some cash to advocate for open government, other than to push out some tepid, rote editorials that may or may not resonate with their dwindling readership.
We say the good money is on a new form of journalism that focuses on openness and spends more time chasing down records, bothering public officials and doing the investigations that news agencies forgot about as they chase the bottom line. Watch this space for more developments on that.

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