May 10th, 2010
Day 13: Heroes come in all sizes
By David Cuillier
So far: Eight states, 3,876 miles, 19 sessions, 328 people (see schedule)
Rapid City, S.D. — Today I saw many national heroes – some presidents larger than life (Mt. Rushmore) and some reporters making their communities better.
I chatted with a dozen journalists from the Rapid City Journal today, organized by copy editor Savannah Tranchell (a University of Idaho graduate – go Vandals! I taught there as an adjunct while in grad school). Talk about dedication – coming in on a Sunday afternoon on Mother’s Day. Emilie Rusch, a city hall reporter, told me she sometimes has troubles getting the mayor to cough up records. But she reminds him about his pledge to keep government transparent. It’s one of his platforms.
Tip No. 12: Get public officials to sign pledges of openness when they run for office, then when they break the public records law pull the pledge out and remind them of their promise. At the very least, ask every incoming elected official and high-ranking officer what their views are on access, quote them and get it in the record. Then if they favor illegal secrecy run those initial quotes in your story. And if it’s an official who ran on a platform of openness, just remind that person every now and then.
After the session I drove to Mount Rushmore, about 20 miles from Rapid City, and took a gander at some presidential icons – Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. My favorite Lincoln quote: “Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.” Then I toodled another 10 miles to see the Crazy Horse Memorial, still in progress.
These rock sculptures are inspirational to FOI requesters. George Washington challenged the tyranny of the king of England. Crazy Horse was an Oglata Lakota warrior who challenged the tyranny of a government that reneged on promises. These principle-based leaders fought for something greater than their personal well-being. Journalists, too, fight for principles and challenge authority. We must always put our principles first and our bottom line second. It is our duty to challenge authority and demand transparency so people can make informed decisions!
Tip No. 13: Get inspired by watching videos that rev your ideals. It doesn’t even have to be a journalism movie. For me, The Untouchables is inspirational – people fighting for what’s right, against all odds. Here are some ideas for FOI-inspiring video nights (comment with your favorites!):
* All the President’s Men (documents and sources can bring down a president)
* Good Night and Good Luck (journalists like Edward R. Murrow stand up to the abuse of power)
* Veronica Guerin (journalists are willing to give their lives for uncovering societal ills)
* Snow Falling on Cedars (journalists at community papers can stand up for what’s right, and use records in ways to further justice)
* The Fog of War (great look into how government spins, featuring Robert McNamara)
* McLibel (shows how citizens can stand up to big corporations)
* The Running Man (cheesy Schwarzenegger sci-fi flick that shows what kind of society we might have if we don’t hold the line – great short documentary on civil liberties on the DVD)
Monday: I’ll be talking with the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, then driving into Minnesota to talk with the Marshall Independent and bunk in St. Cloud. Today I drove the distance of South Dakota. I could not escape the hundreds of Wall Drug signs along the highway. Now that’s advertising.