There’s a reason that, even as a little paper, we pay such close attention to the public records law and to the flow of information between government entities and private citizens. For one, when you don’t have many resources, as is the case for almost any alternative or community publication these days, you have to work and jerk the system at inventive angles, and one great way to do that is by using the Freedom of Information Act, often shorthanded as “FOIA.” Take, for example, the time when I revealed that politicians and their posses in the Massachusetts State House guzzle more than half a million dollars worth of bottled water every year.
Watch Dig Editor Chris Faraone find middle ground with conservative Jeff Semon this past weekend at a MuckRock Sunshine Week event
Which brings me to the very special topic of Sunshine Week, which we are currently in despite the slush storms in these parts. Helmed by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Gridiron Club and Foundation, it’s basically a time to holler even louder than usual about transparency and to share stories from across the country about public information scofflaws. The Dig, for example, contributed to and is publishing “The Foilies,” which the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) drops annually to honor the “year’s worst in government transparency.” There are several other Sunshine contributions out there too, including a truly horrifying piece by Stuart Leavenworth and Adam Ashton of McClatchy:
Wondering who is visiting the White House? The web-based search has gone dark. Curious about climate change? Some government sites have been softened or taken down. Worried about racial discrimination in housing? Laws have been introduced to bar federal mapping of such disparities. Federal rules protecting whistleblowers? At least one has been put on hold.
Since taking office, the Trump administration has made a series of moves that have alarmed groups with a stake in public access to information — historians, librarians, journalists, climate scientists, internet activists, to name a few. Previous presidential transitions have triggered fears about access to government data, but not on this scope.
Even though we know our readers care about these things, and we typically treat you like big girls and boys by delivering news about public records, Sunshine Week is pretty insidery, and I wouldn’t typically spend so much time hammering away at these points. But over the past couple of months, I’ve been excited to sense that more and more people care about media, and transparency, and stopping dirtbags in our government at every level from using their positions to fatten their friends while the rest of us eat shit.
It’s an ugly picture, but it’s one that you should think about as you thumb through our issue this week.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.