BY ED OTTE
Students and faculty heard firsthand accounts of efforts to obtain public records information and open closed-door government meetings at a Society of Professional Journalists Sunshine Week forum March 12 at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
“The session provided practical advice for student journalists to use as they cover university and government meetings and work with public records,” said Kris Kodrich, associate professor in the Department of Journalism & Technical Communication and adviser to the SPJ student chapter. “It also provided an interesting conversation about how journalists have utilized the law to better serve their readers, viewers and listeners.”
The forum, cosponsored by SPJ’s Colorado Pro Chapter and CSU student chapter, featured First Amendment attorney Chris Beall of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz in Denver, KUNC public radio reporter Grace Hood and Fort Collins Coloradoan executive editor Josh Awtry.
“I thought the panelists did a great job of explaining the law and giving practical examples of how journalists and other members of the public are served by freedom of information laws,” Kodrich said. “The crowd appreciated the expertise and asked interesting questions about some of the challenges journalists and others face when seeking public information.”
The audience included journalism students and faculty and members of the SPJ student chapter.
Sunshine Week, March 10-16, is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.
“Sunshine Week isn’t just a time to inform prospective journalists about the laws in place to both protect us and keep the public informed,” Awtry said. “It’s also a great time to recommit and review those same laws ourselves. I learned a lot just from being a part of the panel. The quality of information that was bandied about was riveting.”
The Colorado Pro Chapter sponsors Sunshine Week programs each year. In March 2012, the chapter conducted a Sunshine Week forum at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. The panel for that event included Grand Junction Daily Sentinel managing editor Laurena Mayne Davis, Durango Herald managing editor Don Lindley and a Grand Junction resident who battled city hall over a public records issue.