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Project Sunshine
A Winning Strategy

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Do you want your state to do a better job of enforcing open-meeting and open-records laws? Here are five important things to consider when trying to effect change, according to Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government:

Identify problems with accessing public information.
Collect stories of personal experience or conduct a statewide survey of reporters and editors to identify violations of the law.

Take an inventory of your resources.
What have you got to work with? Assess human, financial and political resources — and don't leave out potential contributions from the general public. Acknowledge the limitations of each resource and group of contributors.

Form a coalition.
This requires listening as much as talking and respecting everyone's point of view. It's important to welcome everyone into this conversation and to represent everyone — journalists of all media, publishers, citizens and lobbyists.

Jointly craft an action plan and delegate wisely.
Divide the work needed to be done based on each partner's ability and resources, or agree on a list of priorities and an order of progression. Be realistic. Not everyone can lobby. Some groups and individuals have money, but little time, to give. Be highly inclusive, and remember that the geek who designed your coalition's Web site deserves as much credit as the person who got you and your team in to see the governor or the person who wrote a big check to fund your efforts.

Raise the profile of the problems you've identified.
Once you've spotted specific problems, make others aware of them too. Press for coverage on local radio and television programs. Write news stories, letters to the editor and opinion pieces. Distribute fliers in public places, such as libraries and community centers. Provide regular updates about problems — and your efforts to address them — on a Web site.

Frank Gibson is a retired Tennessean reporter, editor and former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists. He serves as the Tennessee Press Association’s Freedom of Information coordinator and executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. He welcomes questions and comments via e-mail or by phone at 615-202-2685.

Click here to contact the Project Sunshine Chair in your state.

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