For me, there's a period of several weeks from mid-January into March that I think of as "awards season."
No, I'm not talking about the entertainment industry's run of shows: Grammys, Oscars, Golden Globes, etc. I'm talking about a group of journalism contests for which we prepare entries around this time of year using stories, photos, videos and other content we've published the previous calendar year.
The work of preparing entries is a bit tedious, but for me, there's certain reward in it — and I'm not referring to the actual awards we've been fortunate to win over the years.
The reward personally comes from the chance to look back over a year of terrific journalism produced by the people who work at The Citizen and auburnpub.com. In the day-to-day rush, it's easy to lose track of the big-picture impact a good community newspaper has over the course of time.
As I've put this year's entries together, something that jumped out at me was the number of important stories our staff broke using the state's Freedom of Information Law. FOIL, and the federal version now as the Freedom of Information Act (or FOIA), protects that vital premise that the public has a fundamental right to know what the government is doing.
In the past year here, reporters have brought forth big stories using FOIL requests to get key documents. There was an investigative piece into an Aurelius fire in which county and state officials arrived at different conclusions. There was the series on a state Assemblyman's taxpayer-funded community liaison who had some questionable time-sheet entries, among other issues. There was the battle, requiring us to spend considerable money on a First Amendment attorney, to secure records from a county authority on a lease deal it made.
I could rattle off about a half-dozen more stories from 2017 in which FOIL was indispensable in getting the information reported to our readers.
I'm offering this summary in order to illustrate the importance of an annual nationwide awareness campaign about the importance of government transparency. Sunshine Week, organized by the American Society of News Editors and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The Gridiron Club and Foundation, kicks off Sunday, March 11, and runs through Saturday, March 17.
Over the course of Sunshine Week, we'll provide editorial cartoons, special columns and a few news stories that will give readers some information to consider about the importance of open records and meetings.
A great resource for everyone to check out is sunshineweek.org, and you might want to follow @sunshineweek on Twitter.
In our state, another terrific tool is the New York Committee on Open Government site (dos.ny.gov/coog). Also check out the federal Office of Government Information Services (ogis.archives.gov).
For our classrooms out there with an interest in Sunshine Week, I encourage you to check out the Newspapers in Education program page set up by the New York News Publishers Association: nynpa.com/nie/sunshine.html. There's some excellent materials there for talking with students about the importance of this issue.
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