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MN SPJ invites newsrooms and student journalists to participate in Sunshine Week 2015

UPDATE: We have our first official #SunshineMN participant!

St. Cloud Times: http://www.sctimes.com/story/watchdog/2015/03/18/sunshine-week/24959675/

swlogoSunshine Week 2015 is coming up and journalists around the nation will participate the week of March 15 through March 21. An annual event, Sunshine Week calls on journalists to shed light on issues of open government and have conversations with their readers about the importance of open and transparent government, whether that government body is a municipality or a large federal agency. This year, the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, in collaboration with the Minnesota Newspaper Association, is reaching out to newsrooms and student journalists across the state to cover and look into the increasing amount of public work that is being done by private organizations. Private charter schools, surveying firms, even private police forces are being used more and more to conduct business that was once the purview of public officials. College campuses are not immune to this phenomenon either, increasingly relying on private foundations to raise revenue and communicate on behalf of the university or partnering with private companies to handle student services like policing, dining or financial aid.

To contribute to this year’s Sunshine Week event, which we are dubbing #SunshineMN, we are asking professional and student newsrooms around the state to produce at least one story that raises awareness in your community about public work that is being done by private organizations. Our aim is to shed a light on transparency and accountability issues that may arise as a result of these public-private partnerships.

Conducting a “transparency audit” is simple.  We are asking journalists across the state to obtain documents related to public-private partnerships. Such documents could include: contracts, audits, bids, budgets, any reports required by law, etc. – any documents that help shed light on work being done in service of the public by private organizations.

The final step is to report on what you’ve discovered. Again the aim of sunshine week is to tell the public about importance of open and transparent government. Was it easy to obtain information? Were there roadblocks? What did the information you found say about the public-private partnership? How transparent or accountable to the public is the agency/program it is serving? Your reporters can also go even further, especially if they make some interesting discoveries during their search.

We will highlight the stories that professional and student newsrooms publish as part of Sunshine Week on this website, our Facebook page and on Twitter using the #SunshineMN hashtag. We will also publish a list of participating newsrooms. To add yourself to the list email minnesota.spj@gmail.com. Also let us know if you have questions, comments or concerns.

Check back to this page, and mnspj.org for #SunshineMN updates . This page will continue to be updated with useful information including contact information for freedom of information experts, resources on open government law and making information requests, and story ideas for your newsroom. Good luck with your information requests! Resources for Reporters: SPJ’s freedom of information how-to guide for students SPJ’s freedom of information how-to guide for professionals Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press Open Government Guide for Minnesota RCFP Federal Open Government Guide IFOIA.org help with making state and federal information requests (project of RCFP) The Student Press Law Center, a national first amendment and open government organization for student journalists Student Press Law Center public records request letter generator Sunshine Week Experts and Contacts: MN SPJ Project Lead: Nathan Hansen La Crosse Tribune Education Reporter 507-313-2372 nathanhansen2010@gmail.com Local experts: Mark Anfinson Media law attorney representing the Minnesota Newspaper Association. 612-827-5611 mranfinson@lawyersofminnesota.com Jane Kirtley Director, Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law School of Journalism and Mass Communication,University of Minnesota 612-625-9038 kirtl001@umn.edu Tips for Successful Information Requests: Ask for your information early. Organizations can balk at requests for information on a tight deadline. Give them some time to get the information you want and allow for follow-ups, appeals and interviews about the documents you wish to report on. Be specific. Being overly broad in your request can cause hassles for both sides. Consider the organization’s view if your request is too generic or confusing. If your request doesn’t make sense, they can’t get the information you need. If you only need one document like a contract or email but ask for a broad assortment, it can lengthen the time of request and the agency can require more in fees for the time searching and copying. Ask for narrowly defined documents and specific dates when possible, and if you are unsure of what a document is called, ask first before making the request. Make personal contact. It is easier to work with people who know you and you have a working relationship with. An information request from a stranger is easier to ignore, and you never know what new story ideas or leads might come from a meeting to discuss your request. Don’t take no for an answer. You can appeal an organization’s decision to deny your request, or you might realize you need to modify what you are looking for. At the very least, a denial is a story in its own right if an organization is denying you access to public information and records. Sunshine Week Story Ideas: Follow the money: Is a private business or organization making large profits from running an institution or providing a service that used to be under public purview? Hiring: Both local governments and units of government spend tens of thousands of dollars on hiring top level employees like university presidents or county administrators. What are they paying for and what do they get for their money? Student Debit Cards: Does your college or a university have a relationship with a local or federal financial institution? Some student IDs double as debit or credit cards, and is there a financial arrangement involved with this relationship between the university and the bank? Transparency: Are private contractors as transparent or accountable as the public agency or staff they replaced? Check and see why kinds of reports the public agency was creating in the past and compare that to the reporting requirement for the private contractor. What does the public not know now that is used to? Relationships: Is the mayor’s private business collecting trash for the city? Is the brother of a municipal official on the board of the lobbying firm representing the city at the Legislature? What is the relationship between between the public and the private organization they are working with?


 

Sunshine Week 2015 Activities are brought to you by:

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You’re Invited!

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2014 MN SPJ Intern Night

SPJ_InternNight1The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists is pleased to announce our annual Intern Night program for Wednesday, October 29th at WCCO-TV in Downtown Minneapolis. This program is designed for college students and is a great opportunity to learn about applying for internships, meet internship recruiters and managers, and get a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to intern in one of the top news media markets in the country.

Date: Wednesday, October 29th
Time: 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Location: WCCO-TV, 90 S. 11th St., Minneapolis

Space is limited to the first 60 students and registration is required. This event sells out annually, so don’t delay! A waiting list will become available when the event is full.

Register online now!

Details: We recommend professional attire for this event. You may also want to bring copies of your one-page résumé. You will have the opportunity to ask questions of our panel of experts and chat with the journalists following the program.  A tour of WCCO-TV will also be offered following the event, and several WCCO folks will be available to meet and greet event attendees. Panelists represent media outlets from across the state; a full list will be available closer to the event.

Parking: Parking is available at metered spots on the street or in nearby parking ramps. Please give yourself time to find a parking spot and arrive on time to the event!

Register online now!

Questions? Interested in having your media outlet represented at Intern Night? Email us at minnesota.spj@gmail.com.

Silha Lecture: Oct. 6

Minnesota SPJ members are friends are invited to the 2014 Silha Lecture!

October 6, 2014
7:00 pm Cowles Auditorium
University of Minnesota West Bank, Twin Cities Campus

“See No Evil: Why We Need A New Approach to Government Transparency”

Featuring
David A. Schulz

David A. Schulz 
Partner, Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, LLP
Co-Director of the Media Freedom & Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School

Counsel to The Associated Press, The New York TimesThe Guardian, and other investigative news organizations

On the 25th anniversary of Department of Justice v. Reporters Committee, one of the nation’s leading advocates for press access and the public’s right to know will explore the judicial and bureaucratic debilitation of the Freedom of Information Act since 9/11, and the critical need to broaden and enforce the First Amendment right of access to government proceedings and records. The discussion will consider the untapped potential of the constitutional access right and the role of the press in illuminating issues ranging from “secret law” articulated by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, to the government’s plans to prevent Guantanamo detainees from testifying publicly at their own trials, to a State’s ability to keep secret the formulas used for lethal injection executions.

This event is free and open to the public; no reservations are required.

For additional information, contact the Silha Center at 612-625-3421 or at silha@umn.edu

AAJA TRIVIA BOWL

EBCE1EDB8CC2F0470EB3DB1849624498C195326FCDF18ED6CDCheck out AAJA-MN’s Trivia Bowl on October 16.

$100 for teams of 5. All proceeds benefit AAJA-MN’s scholarship, grant and internship program.

If you’d like to join “Team MN SPJ” email us!

More information and register your team today!

 

Annual Meeting Thursday!

SPJlogoThe Minnesota Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is holding its 2014 Annual Meeting on Thursday, June 26.

Members and anyone interested in the chapter’s work are welcome to attend.  Included in the meeting will be an update on the chapter’s activities, leadership and finances as well as the announcement of the results of the 2014 Board of Directors Election.  Please bring any thoughts, comments or “new business” for the chapter to consider in its 2014-15 year.

When:  Thursday, June 26 — 6:30 p.m.

Where: Grumpy’s Downtown
1111 Washington Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55415

*Lot parking and street parking available.

Questions? Please contact us:  minnesota.spj@gmail.com.