By David Cuillier | June 29th, 2009
According to recent article in the Columbia Journalism Review, the American Society of News Editors is going to lay off its sole staffer dedicated to coordinating national Sunshine Week. This is a sad day for FOI.
Debra Gersh Hernandez, who is likely to be given the ax Wednesday, has served FOI well, fostering hundreds of access articles and projects throughout the country for the past four years. The week in March has provided an outstanding news peg for journalists to write about FOI and educate citizens. I suspect it’s made a big difference in fostering support for access.
But times are tough in journalism now. It’s been great that ASNE could sponsor the effort, courtesy of grant funding from the Knight Foundation. According to the CJR article, ASNE couldn’t find enough corporate donations from the news industry to match a challenge grant from Knight that would have kept Sunshine Week staffed forever.
Apparently ASNE hopes to keep Sunshine Week alive without a full-time staffer by using existing ASNE staff. That’s laudible, but it won’t be enough. I’ve seen what Hernandez does behind the scenes and it’s a full-time job – coordinating hundreds of volunteers, disseminating information, gathering and posting finished work online. We need a full-time staffer dedicated to the cause, whether it come from ASNE, Knight, SPJ, or some other organization. This public awareness campaign is too valuable to short-change.
The problem, I know, is times are tough and grant funding is moving toward digital media and finding ways to save journalism. The traditional stuff, like FOI, is not as sexy. Also, with a new president who claims to support FOI, the perceived need for FOI advocacy has probably waned some. But the reality is access is no better today than it was five years ago. I hope someone, somewhere will step up to keep the momentum going and keep Sunshine Week strong. It’s too important to let fade.