As part of a continuing examination of threats to First Amendment freedoms, The Associated Press, American Society of News Editors and Associated Press Media Editors have produced a package of stories focused on government attempts to promote secrecy or hinder access to information.
The centerpiece is an online transparency tool that can be accessed by AP customers. The news organizations worked with freedom of information experts to create the tool, which tracks state legislative attempts to alter the flow of public information. This includes bills that seek to make certain information off-limits to the public or harder to access.
They identified more than 150 such bills that were introduced in the 2017 legislative session alone. Those bills have been collected in an online tool to be found here: https://sunshine.ap.org
The link is accessible to anyone with an AP member account. Members who have not signed up for other AP services can create an account through AP Images. After registering, the newly created account credentials can be used to access the Sunshine Hub.
The transparency hub provides detailed information about each bill dealing with government transparency and has a number of features reporters and editors will find useful. Reporters will be able to follow the progress of individual bills, sort bills by topic, post comments and suggest legislation to add.
The Sunshine Hub is being released in testing mode for this story package. It will be updated and promoted anew once the 2018 legislative sessions get underway. For that effort, the AP’s data team wants users to provide feedback on how to make the site better and what features should be added or altered. Send feedback to email@example.com.
The following stories and their accompanying images moved in advance on Tuesday, Sept. 12, under embargo for live release at 3:01 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 17, and thereafter. They are intended for use in Sunday print publications.
Illustrations by Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman of The Sacramento Bee accompany each story.
For information about the overall project, contact Tom Verdin, editor of the AP’s state government team, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SUNSHINE YEAR-STATES OF DENIAL
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. _ In February, Arkansas lawmakers marked the 50-year anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act with a resolution calling it “a shining example of open government” that had given state residents access to vital public records for generations. They spent the following weeks debating and, in many cases approving, new exemptions to the law in what critics called an unprecedented attack on the public’s right-to-know. Across the country, state lawmakers this year introduced dozens of bills that attempted to chip away at the public’s right-to-know by claiming that public safety, privacy or business interests outweigh transparency. The trend troubles First Amendment advocates who say the public’s ability to keep a check on the government is under assault. By Andrew DeMillo and Ryan J. Foley. Photos. 1,500 words. Photos, illustration.
_ Sunshine Hub distribution.
SUNSHINE YEAR-TURNING THE TABLES
An Oregon parent wanted details about school employees getting paid to stay home. A retired educator was seeking data on Louisiana student performance. And college journalists in Kentucky requested documents about sexual misconduct investigations of employees. Instead, all three got something else: Sued by the agencies they had asked for public records. Government bodies are increasingly turning the tables on citizens who use state laws to seek access to legally sensitive or embarrassing public records. Instead of granting or denying their requests, a growing number of districts, municipalities and state agencies in recent years have instead filed lawsuits against the requesters, forcing taxpayers, watchdogs and journalists to pursue the records in court at their own expense. The trend has alarmed freedom of information advocates, who say it’s becoming a new way for governments to hide information and intimidate critics. By Ryan J. Foley. 1,000 words. Photos, illustration.
WASHINGTON _ The Trump administration attempted to draw curtains around daily White House briefings. It has prevented public scrutiny of White House visitor logs. And in an attempt to keep government actions secret, it has vigorously pursued whistleblowers. In Congress, Republican leaders negotiated their ultimately unsuccessful health care overhaul in secret. A dark shadow is encroaching on open government in Washington these days, making it harder to hold federal officials accountable for their actions. By Laurie Kellman. 900 words. Photos, illustration.