March 17, 2015

Sunshine Week kicked off Monday, and so far we’ve seen a lot of resources for reporters, some horror stories and pieces about why it matters. Editorial cartoonists are also showing what’s at stake. Via email and phone, I asked four of them about their work and their own experiences with open records.

Ann Telnaes, The Washington Post:

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“The idea came from a Pew Research Center piece about one of their surveys which questioned Americans about how they now view government surveillance programs. One point that caught my eye was that 61% of Americans who were aware of the programs are now less confident that they serve the public interest after watching the developments in news stories about government monitoring programs.”

Nathaniel Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch:

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“I feel very strongly about holding the government to account, so it was an easy choice to draw about Sunshine Week, as I have in the past. There are few things in the news that raise my hackles more than hearing about other journalists running smack-dab into the big stonewall bureaucrats and politicians often put up. It could be the principle of transparency is more dear to me because I graduated from journalism school, but I don’t think you have to be trained in AP style to get riled by government secrecy. I’m well-acquainted with the grumbling of exasperated reporters — both during my time in Washington D.C. and here in Ohio — over unanswered FOIA requests or officials stonewalling. As a cartoonist, I try to be there for moral support. I’m lucky in my job in that I don’t have to send a FOIA request every time I want to caricature government stonewallers.”

Andy Marlette, Pensacola News Journal:

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“I don’t do much reporting, so I’m not usually in the position of directly requesting records and getting denied, but the issues around it certainly pop up here in Pensacola, as I’m sure they do everywhere.” Last week, Marlette said, “in honor of the governor’s reverence for transparency and openness,” he sent created a gallery of Sunshine Week cartoons, “and it’s not just to pick on the governor, it’s because he’s picked on our tradition for openness and transparency in Florida.”

Jack Ohman, The Sacramento Bee:

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“Well, as a cartoonist, I don’t have much first-hand experience with this, but I often do what I call investigative cartoons. In Oregon, for example, I drew many cartoons about trying to get Nike to change the name of their “Joe Paterno Child Development Center.” I called, wrote and drew. They stalled, evaded and soft-pedaled. After weeks of this, they finally changed the name. What was really frustrating was trying to get government elected officials to comment. One of our U.S. Senator’s aides accused me of trying to sandbag the senator by e-mail, and denied ever having received an inquiry from me. I insisted they go through their servers and find it. It showed up as sent on my computer. They continued to deny it was sent. It was enormously frustrating. Another member of congress’s press secretary never really got around to answering–the congresswoman finally called me personally. The governor never commented. I was trying to get them to go on the record about whether the name should be changed. As Phil Knight is enormously powerful in Oregon, no one dared call him out. Too many Nike constituents.”

You can find more Sunshine Week cartoons here.

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Kristen Hare covers the people and business of local news and is the editor of Locally at Poynter. She previously worked as a staff writer…
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