Sunshine Week, March 15-21, marks the 10th anniversary of the annual celebration that was started in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors. The national event celebrates open government and encourages the public to know what the government is doing and why.
It provides a perfect opportunity for educators to address the Freedom of Information Act, open government and watchdog journalism. SchoolJournalism.org provides numerous lesson plans and resources for classroom activities. Find a free toolkit with opinion columns, editorial cartoons, logos, sample proclamations and much more for student media and classroom use at SunshineWeek.org.
The federal Freedom of Information Act was enacted on July 4, 1966, and guarantees that any person has a right, enforceable in court, to obtain access to federal agency records, with a few specific exceptions.
Sunshine Laws also operate at the state level and guarantee the public access to view state government’s official actions, including but not limited to meetings, records, votes and deliberations. Each state has its own Sunshine Laws.
Knowing how to access information, such as public records, is a critical component of news literacy and an important role of journalists.
Sunshineweek.org provides teaching resources, including examples of how journalists have used public records to report on important issues in their communities.
In celebrating the 10 years of Sunshine Week, The Associated Press; The McClatchy Company; USA Today; and Gannett Co., Inc., are working on an unprecedented package of high-impact stories, a commentary piece, informational graphics and editorial cartoons. Content will be available the week of March 9 for free use and distributed by ASNE, AP, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Sunshine Week website.
More resources for educators:
Student Press Law Center handouts and presentations and public records letter generator
News Literacy Project video on watchdog journalism in local news
Federal Freedom of Information Act website