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Sunshine Week preview: Q&A with Fall River’s Aaron Frechette

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Sunshine Week is approaching (March 13), and GateHouseNewsroom.com is asking editors and reporters for ideas and insight into the special event.

We kick things off by asking Aaron Frechette three questions about the importance of the week, which highlights Open Government successes and lobbies for more access in the future.

Frechette is the editorial page editor for The Herald News of Fall River, Mass. He’s has been an open government advocate throughout his 20-year broadcast and print journalism career in New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Aaron Frechette
Aaron Frechette

GateHouseNewsroom.com: Do you think Sunshine Week gets editors and reporters re-focused on Freedom of Information?

Frechette: Some journalists think Sunshine Week has limited value because “every week is Sunshine Week” in our business. Still, I think the extra focus is important because these issues can get lost in the shuffle as we juggle assignments and responsibilities.

I think any time we can’t get the answers we need to do our jobs or when we discover violations of open meetings laws, we know that these laws are almost always on our side.

We know our rights, but the public does not necessarily know their rights. Sunshine Week is an important educational tool for our readers and sometimes even public officials.

 

GateHouseNewsroom.com: In your eyes, what’s the biggest obstacle to overcome when it comes to FOI projects?

Frechette: They can be work intensive from a logistical standpoint, it may take a while to get the information we need and they can sometimes be costly.

In some extreme cases, you might have to go to court, which is resource intensive and a lengthy process. It can be a challenge to make these stories interesting and relevant. I think graphics can help tell these stories very effectively.

“Spotlight” gives everyone a good glimpse into how work-intensive, but how important it is to use the power of FOIA laws to obtain otherwise hidden information for the public good.

 

GateHouseNewsroom.com: Do you think open government issues should be more important in terms of elections?

Frechette: Absolutely. We need to know how “literate” candidates are in terms of sunshine laws and what their philosophies are about open government.

By focusing on these issues at election time, it puts these officials on record so we can point to their statements later on. It also puts them on notice that they need to follow these laws if they’re elected and act in a transparent and open matter.

It can serve as an important reminder for incumbents who may have forgotten the spirit, if not the letter of the law, as well.

 

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