Ohio Journalist

The Ohio Sunshine Summit

By Robert Faris

. Photo by .

(June 11, 2011) — This year, to correspond with National Sunshine Week, which takes place every February, Ohio University students and staff organized a Sunshine Summit. Approximately 155 students, faculty and professional journalists from across the state registered to attend the summit, including at least 100 out-of-towners who braved the bitter Ohio weather.

The Sunshine Summit was dedicated to helping start a conversation about access to public records at public universities in Ohio. It invited speakers and panelists from across the country to come and speak with students, faculty, staff and professional journalists.

The summit began with an overview of what sunshine laws are and how they apply to universities in Ohio. It also provided a lot of information to student journalists about their first amendment rights in regard to public records, something many young journalists have no idea about.

Sunshine laws govern what types of documents are considered public records, and provide access

What Students Are Saying:

“The Summit taught me about the boundaries of being a journalist and what my rights are as both a reporter and a U.S. citizen, some people confuse those rights but the Sunshine Summit showed participants that journalists are part of the broader spectrum of society.” Brooke Bunce, Freshman (BSJ ’14)

“The Sunshine Summit taught me more about my rights as a journalist and how people can’t deny me of them even if I am a student.” Sandhya Kambhampati, Freshman (BSJ ’14)

“For the first time ever, students from across the state came together and spoke with one voice and told our administrators enough is enough with the culture of hostility.” Evan Millward, Senior (BSJ ’11)

The idea for the Sunshine Summit came over the past few years, as Ohio University student journalists began to have major problems with getting access to university and public records. Back in September, Evan Millward, Jamie Ratermann and Taylor Mirfendereski decided that this year’s Sunshine Week would be special, they were going to do something big. The Sunshine Summit was born.

During the summit a number of distinguished journalists and journalism instructors from multiple universities held a panel to answer students’ questions about public records.

Some of the more distinguished visiting panelists and speakers included the president of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Hagit Limor, the regional director of the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Vincent Duffy, former president of the Ohio Coalition for Open Government Frank Deaner.

Local panelists and speakers included E.W. Scripps School of Journalism professors Aimee Edmondson, Mary Rogus and Cary Frith. Joining them was Tom Hodson, former director of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and current interim director of the WOUB Center for Public Media.

At the conclusion of the summit, a draft resolution was crafted from people’s notes and experiences. In it is a declaration that student journalists have rights to public records that must be acknowledged by the University System of Ohio.

It highlights how there is a lack of uniform enforcement within the University System of Ohio with of public records laws, one that needs to be corrected urgently to preserve the openness and transparency of public institutions in order to function properly. The final resolution is available to view at the Sunshine Summit website.

The closing line of the resolution spells out its main argument: “The undersigned attendees of the 2011 Ohio Sunshine Summit request an improved relationship with and transparency of university administrations.”

The resolution quickly drew major attention from the national boards of both SPJ and RTDNA. Both boards have now voted to endorse and support the resolution, a strong message that what was being said at the Sunshine Summit was a national issue that needs to be addressed in almost every other state.

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