‘Local Heroes’ is theme for Sunshine Week

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

RESTON, Va. — Sunshine Week 2011 (March 13-19) will highlight “Local Heroes” across America who have played significant roles in fighting for open government, the American Society of News Editors has announced.

Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Free materials that individuals and organizations can use to participate in Sunshine Week are available on the project’s website.

“As a society, we often associate the word ‘hero’ with movie stars and athletes,” said Tim Franklin, co-chair of the ASNE Freedom of Information Committee. Franklin is the Louis A. Weil Jr. Endowed Chair and Director of the National Sports Journalism Center at the Indiana University School of Journalism in Bloomington. “But in a self-governing democracy like ours, it takes the commitment and passion of average citizens doing extraordinary things to make government more open and more accountable.

“The ASNE Sunshine Week Local Heroes winners won’t be seen on the big screen or on ‘Sports Center’ highlights. The largely unknown winners in this contest, however, will be heroes to anyone who pays taxes and votes in a local community — in other words, to every single resident who lives there.”

The winner of the Local Heroes contest will receive an expenses-paid trip in April to San Diego to be honored by the nation’s newsroom leaders at the 2011 ASNE convention. Second- and third-place winners will receive $500 and $250 prizes, respectively.

Franklin says regular citizens have had a profound impact in their communities, whether it was changing how their elected officials operate or uncovering mishandling of taxpayer money. “These are citizens who deserve our admiration, thanks and the title, ‘Local Hero,’” he said.

Last year’s winner was Suzanne Harris of Miramar Beach, Fla. Her lawsuit forced county officials to make significant changes in the way they handle public records.

The second-place winner in 2010 was Veronica Silkes of Landing, N.J., the founder of a small citizens group concerned about tax increases and expenditures in Mount Arlington. Silkes and her group gathered public documents and shared information about borough affairs through the organization’s website.

Phil and Ellen Winter of Waynesboro, Va., were the third-place winners. The couple gathered more than 100 pages of government documents that showed the city treasurer had allegedly mishandled about $400,000 in city and state taxpayer money.

To nominate a 2011 local hero, please visit SunshineWeek.org to fill out a nomination form. All nominations must be received by Friday, Feb. 18. The winner will be announced by March 1.

In addition, two new Sunshine Week 2011 initiatives will premier in the coming weeks:

  • The “Ray of Sunshine” game on SunshineWeek.org, in which players can test their knowledge of open government and the history of FOIA via multiple-choice questions. 
  • Sample proclamations that will be available for individuals and organizations to use to urge them to approach their local and state government officials to support transparency in government. Spearheaded by ASNE in 2005, Sunshine Week has quickly grown in participation beyond news and journalism organizations to include students, teachers, private citizens, librarians, civic leaders, public officials, bloggers and a variety of nonprofit groups and associations. Many of the Sunshine Week basic materials are available in Spanish.
  • Sunshine Week is funded primarily by grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation of Miami and the ASNE Foundation. The project also has received a grant for 2011 from the Gridiron Club and Foundation.
    For more information:
    Cristal Williams Chancellor
    cwilliams@asne.org
    703/453-1138