EDITORIAL: Help us celebrate Sunshine Week and demand answers to your questions
This week, Central Michigan Life is joined by hundreds of other media outlets, civic groups and engaged citizens around the country in celebrating Sunshine Week.
This special initiative was started 17 years ago by a group of news editors who wanted to educate the public about the importance of open government, public records and local journalism.
This year, we challenge the Central Michigan University community to learn right along with us.
As students and employees of this university, our livelihoods often depend on this institution sharing the whole, unedited truth.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.
The First Amendment protects journalistic freedom, but citizens everywhere often depend on laws like the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Open Meetings Act to access government documents to ensure our leaders are being truly transparent.
CM Life uses Michigan's “sunshine laws,” in our reporting every single day.
Last semester, we submitted a FOIA request for the contract between CMU and its new food provider, Chartwells. The goal of this request was to understand a complex money exchange that will impact CMU for years to come.
In 2018, it was a FOIA request that uncovered documents that the Office of Student Conduct used to investigate the allegations against a banned fraternity. The documents revealed instances of hazing, sexual assault and drugging women.
Without these laws, much of what you read and watch in CM Life and other news outlets wouldn’t exist. Coverage of crime, court proceedings, government meetings and more would only be what leaders choose to share.
It’s because of sunshine laws that any student, faculty or staff member at CMU can see how much top-level administrators are paid, how much it costs to conduct their executive searches and how the university spends our tuition dollars every semester.
Despite these valuable laws, public officials still try to withhold information.
Submitting a FOIA request is often a lengthy process that involves paying a hefty fee. Even after waiting and forking over hundreds of dollars, there’s no guarantee the information you seek will be provided.
It's been months since CMU’s victory at the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl, and we still don’t know how much the final payout was. CM Life continues to search for an answer despite multiple interviews and a FOIA request that provided no useful information.
Despite the shortcomings, our right to dive deeply into the activities of local, county, state and federal officials is protected by the strength of sunshine laws.
Help us remind everyone of that important fact this week.
For months, CM Life has worked with other departments such as the Volunteer Center, Office for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the Journalism Department and registered student organizations to plan a series of events March 13-19.
These events will discuss the importance of open government but also aim to help attendees understand the ever-changing media landscape.
The importance of newsroom diversity, emerging coverage areas and the dangers of fake news will all be discussed during panels and presentations.
See a full list of the events below:
Tuesday, March 15: Brews, Bets & Blunts: Emerging Beats in Michigan Media
- Gus Burns, MLive
- Matt Schoch, Catena Media
- Brian Manzullo, Detroit Free Press
Wednesday, March 16: Citizenship Crash Course: How Media Literacy Can Combat Fake News (Sponsored by Central Civics)
- Amy Robinson, news director, WCMU
- Ben Solis, political reporter, Gongwer
- Sara Scott, MLive
- Professor Troy Hicks, teaches a class on media literacy
Friday, March 18: Diversity in Your News & Newsroom
1:00 pm-2:30 p.m.
Health Professions Building Auditorium
- Kirkland Crawford, Sports Editor, Detroit Free Press
- Jake May, Flint Journal, MLive, Pulitzer Prize finalist (Feature Photojournalism)
- John Gonzales, Grand Rapids Press/Michigan’s Best, MLive (retired)
- Alyssa Burr, MLive, Social and Cultural Policy Reporter
- Sierra Clark, Report for America/Traverse City Record-Eagle
Attending one of these events is just a start. The importance of open government should be acknowledged year-round.
You can continue to be an advocate for transparency by demanding answers to your questions. The easiest way to do that is by staying engaged with your local media.
Read our stories and share your thoughts. To submit a letter to the editor or guest column for CM Life to publish, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Continue to educate yourself on the importance of government transparency. Follow the News Leaders Association, the founders of Sunshine Week for more information.
Sunshine Week is for everyone — continue to help us hold our leaders accountable.