May 16th, 2010
Spread freedom in your own community!
By David Cuillier
It’s been encouraging to hear the feedback on this tour so far. Today (Sunday), John Bodette, editor of the St. Cloud Times, wrote a column about the session last week. Some highlights:
“The tour is an inspiration and a strong reminder of the important work journalists do to help provide information to citizens so they can make decisions.”
“One of his messages was to stand up against secrecy. It often takes time and hard work to get the information the public is entitled to, but if we don’t do it, who will?”
“His grueling cross-country trip is a great example of what one person can do for democracy.”
Thanks, John. That’s nice of you to say. We can’t stop with this one tour. All of us can spread freedom in our own communities. Think of it this way: We have thousands of soldiers who are willing to give up six months or years of their lives to serve their country to preserve our freedom, at great risk to their own lives. The least every American can do is take a few days or weeks out to preserve freedom in our own ways. I would probably be an awful soldier (my kids wallop me in Call of Duty), but I can talk about fundamental principles that our country is founded upon. I can’t spread freedom in Iraq, but I can do something here in our country. Join the cause!
Tip No. 24: Here are some ideas for spreading freedom in your own community:
- Editorialize and write about the importance of liberty and freedom. Explain the practical benefits of voting, volunteering, getting involved in local government. Highlight the dangers of ignoring these principles through reminders of history (e.g., Stalin, Nazi Germany, Japanese interment camps, secret prisons, wiretapping innocent citizens).
- Include sidebars and boxes with stories explaining where records can be obtained and explaining the fundamental reasons for why you had access to the information in your story.
- Speak at community groups – Rotary, League of Women Voters, parent-teacher associations, writers groups, etc. Speak to high school civics classes.
- Teach community education classes on “Journalism for Citizens,” providing helpful tips and skills on getting information, verifying facts, ethics, photography, video, and writing clearly (heck, maybe people would pay to attend such sessions at your newsroom offices).
- Carve out a public service budget to pay for billboards and ads promoting First Amendment freedoms.
- Put together an annual access project for national Sunshine Week, held each March.
- Conduct your own statewide or regional access tour to speak to smaller newsrooms or citizen groups. It’s not difficult and people appreciate it. Good for grooming up-and-coming stars, to improve the hiring pool.
- Create a coalition for open government in your state, if you don’t have one. If you do, get involved and keep it strong. See the list of state coalitions at the National Freedom of Information Coalition (a co-sponsor for this tour).
- Join SPJ! Support the fight for your rights! The group has had a hit to membership, just like many others. We need to stand strong, side-by-side, or we will lose our rights. Freedom ain’t free (it costs a $1.05, or maybe a little more, but it’s worth it).