Editorials, Opinion

Editorial Encore: Sunshine Week has ended but our work never does

EDITOR’S NOTE: This editorial has been adapted from one that originally published March 19, 2023.

Sunshine Week — a celebration of access to public, particularly government, information — ended last week. Most years, we would have highlighted Sunshine Week either before it started or while it was going on. However, we were so busy doing the work of illuminating government activity that we didn’t have the time to celebrate the work.

Sunshine Week is structured around Freedom of Information Day, which falls on or near James Madison’s March 16 birthday. (Of the Founding Fathers, Madison is thought to have fought hardest for government transparency.)

News organizations and reporters across the country do the time-consuming work of tracking down publicly available information (some of which isn’t as “publicly available” as it should be); narrowing what could be dozens to thousands of pages of information into its most important pieces; and translating it into laymen’s terms for the rest of us.

Locally, our reporters do the legwork every day so you can stay informed. Our cops and courts reporter visits the courthouse multiple times a week to get information on criminal charges and lawsuits. Our city/county reporter sits through city council, county commission and utility board meetings, so you can know what’s going on in the community without giving up your evening. Our education reporter attends school board meetings and keeps up with local schools’ achievements, so you know what our best and brightest are doing. Our sports reporters give you the highlights from recent games across a variety of athletic events, so it’s like you never missed a game. Our government reporter covers everything from the state’s capital to the nation’s Capitol, so you know what lawmakers are doing and how it may impact you.

Sunshine Week gives us an opportunity to toot our own horn a little, but it’s also an opportunity to remind us all that we, as individuals and private citizens, are also entitled to freedom of information.

The Freedom of Information Act, in the words of the National Archives, “gives any person the right to request access to records of the executive branch of the U.S. Government. Federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine exemptions.” West Virginia has its own FOIA law that says, “Every person has a right to inspect or copy any public record of a public body in this state” with some exceptions.

While many people associate FOIA requests with professional journalists, anyone can file a request. FOIAs have been used effectively by individuals, nonprofits, businesses, activist groups and even student newspapers. You have as much a right to public information as any news organization — all you have to do is ask for it.

Although Sunshine Week has come and gone, our work bringing you the news and shedding light on government activity never ends.