In First Amendment on March 16, 2017 at 3:28 pm
Be a beacon of sunlight.
Today marks the end of Sunshine Week. I had planned on using last week’s Kicker to suggest you spend this week giving the powers that be holy hell in the name of sunshine, but events conspired. I didn’t get around to an update last week. So here we are.
The good news is that this good fight never ends. Consider next week Sunshine Week as well, and the week after that. And the week after that.
There is some law of physics that holds: People will seek to control information in direct proportion to their relative need for power. The nice people who run your local nonprofit are likely to ask that you keep their fundraising totals under wraps, but here’s guessing they are a lot less difficult than your average dictator. The corollary to the law is that faceless individuals are most likely to deny you information. You know this to be true if you have ever emailed some state bureaucrat somewhere to ask for an innocuous document only to get something in which every line is needlessly redacted. Small people simply love to have a secret.
When people say no to your curiosity, they are also saying no to the thousands of people who count on you every day. Keep that in mind and your battle won’t feel as daunting nor as lonely. You will be made to feel like a prying jerk if, say, you ask how much everyone is paid at city hall. Just remember that money belongs to your readers and you will sleep well at night.
Here are some resources intended for Sunshine Week. Please take a look and find a dark place to shine some light.
In journalism on March 16, 2017 at 3:23 pm
It won’t come as any surprise to journalists that access to documents, elected officials and the legions of minions who (supposedly) work for us is not what it should be. Thanks to Wick CEO Francis Wick, I now know it’s only likely to get worse.
Francis alerted me to this study released this week by University of Arizona journalism professor David Cullier. He interviewed 300 journalists and freedom of information types and found great pessimism when it comes to access to government. Among his findings:
- About half of the experts said access to state and local government records has worsened during the past four years. They said things were just as bad under President Barak Obama when it came to the federal government.
- Survey participants reported long delays in getting information, documents that had been overly censored, high copying fees, out-of-date government technology and public officials not knowing the laws.
- Nearly nine out of 10 predicted that access to information will worsen during the next four years under the new presidential administration.
Cullier was clear: American government has become more closed over long decades. This isn’t a partisan issue. Experts, he noted, suggest we should all be taught how to file a FOIA request in school as part of our basic civics lessons in an effort to combat this creeping secrecy. …
In Business on March 16, 2017 at 3:18 pm
This week I was struck by something Jed Williams said in the February edition of Editor and Publisher magazine.
Williams is the chief innovation officer at the Local Media Association, which counts Wick Communications newspapers among its members. For the magazine’s Wise Advice column, he was asked a single question: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?”
“Be customer obsessed, not competitor obsessed.”
He goes on to say that “obsessed” is not “focused.” It’s … obsessed. It is the reason you come in to work in the morning. He says you have to actually solve problems for customers, be they readers who need timely information or advertisers who need to move the needle on their businesses.
Williams says the key is empathy, which is something I’ve said again and again even as I understand it’s easier said than achieved. Believe me: I’ve failed repeatedly in various quests to empathize with our customers. I’ve failed to follow through with some design-thinking ideas. I’ve failed the obsessions test in dealing with Half Moon Bay Review customers who walk through the door with a problem. If you’ve ever walked past someone at the front counter who wanted to buy a newspaper or talk to an ad rep or ask how to get an event covered, you too have failed to be obsessed enough with our customers. Welcome to the club.
Ultimately, our success or failure will be found in relation to our ability to solve customer problems and that requires empathizing with their individual problems. …