Many journalism groups across the county observed Sunshine Week last week. Sunshine Week serves as a reminder of the role journalists play as watchdogs in ensuring open and transparent government.
Shop Talk panelist Rich Egger said journalists rely on Freedom of Information and Open Meetings laws to cover governments, but he emphasized those laws were not written specifically for journalists – they were written so all citizens can keep tabs on government.
Panelist Emily Boyer said it’s not difficult to file a Freedom of Information request. Some local governments might ask you to fill out a form, but she said all you really need to do is write a letter or email to explain what information you’re seeking under the Freedom of Information law and then submit it.
Boyer also said the Illinois Attorney General’s office has a Public Access Counselor who enforces such laws and reviews appeals of requests that are rejected.
Panelist Will Buss said journalists should make it part of their regular routine to file Freedom of Information requests. He said the goal is to make sure the public is informed.
Buss said some information is protected and should not be released to the public. But most information should be available and governments should provide that information when a citizen or reporter asks for it.
Shop Talk is a weekly panel discussion. This week’s program featured Will Buss, who teaches in the Department of Broadcasting and Journalism at WIU and advises the student editors at the Western Courier; Emily Boyer, Morning Edition host at Tri States Public Radio; and TSPR News Director Rich Egger.