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Knight Foundation Endowment to Help Expand Sunshine Week Under University of Florida Leadership

The University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications (UFCJC)  and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced the establishment of the Knight Sunshine Fund at the University of Florida, an endowment of $575,000 to help expand the reach and impact of Sunshine Week and increase public awareness of the importance of open government.

Since its launch, millions of Americans have participated in Sunshine Week, the nation’s largest annual celebration of freedom of information. This year, the week ran from March 10-16 with events ranging from a foundation networking meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to national events in Washington, D.C., run by open government coalitions as well as the Justice Department.

The nonpartisan Sunshine Week, started in 2005 by newspaper editors, was born from Florida’s successful statewide newspaper project, Sunshine Sunday.  The program, now managed by the Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of Information Project at UFCJC, is promoted with the help of partner organizations, including Muckrock, Society of Professional Journalists, the Radio Television Digital News Association and more.

The Knight Sunshine Fund will help the Brechner FOI Project bolster communication about Sunshine Week, improve its web site, conduct in-person and online training for journalists and the public, translate research into practical application for public records requesters, and foster connections between government, libraries, historians, the media, corporations, nonprofits and others invested in citizen access to public records, meetings and the courts.

“We’re thrilled that the University of Florida has stepped up to grow Sunshine Week,” said Jim Brady, Knight Foundation VP/Journalism. “Government secrecy is growing and keeping records and meetings open is becoming more challenging, so we’re glad this important program can be maintained.”

The $575,000 endowment will provide $50,000 in one-time funds this spring to invest in website upgrades, social media messaging, planning and staffing. The remaining $525,000 will be maintained by the University of Florida Foundation as the Knight Sunshine Fund, supporting Sunshine Week and open government activities in perpetuity.

“The support from the Knight Foundation is essential to Brechner’s long-term mission to support freedom of information and access to public records, and it’s something that we at the University of Florida truly appreciate,” said Hub Brown, UFCJC dean. “We’re excited to grow our mission to show the public the benefits of that free flow of information from government at all levels.”

“These funds will continue the decades of support by Knight to strengthen communities through civic information,” said David Cuillier, director of the Brechner Freedom of Information Project. “Public outreach and education are more important than ever if we want to maintain a functioning democracy and republic.”

The Brechner FOI Project recruited more than 75 organizations to be part of a Sunshine Alliance, a partnership to help engage the public year-round and promote Sunshine Week.

The Sunshine Week website, a hub of information for journalism organizations and the public, currently includes:

  • Content for news organizations to publish, including editorial cartoons, columns and other features.
  • Resources for the public to help them acquire helpful government information, including video tips from top FOI experts.
  • A list of nearly 50 events held throughout the country this month to educate the public on their right to know.
  • Content to help journalists and citizens promote the right to know through social media.
  • Games and puzzles about freedom of information, ideal for classroom use or public-record enthusiasts.
  • T-shirts, glasses, stickers, jigsaw puzzles and other merchandise to promote the right to know.
  • Examples of average Americans who helped their communities through public records.

For this year’s Sunshine Week, partners amplified reach to the public through a social media campaign, increasing X/Twitter posts by 2.5% and Instagram posts by 53% from last year. Also, the effort promoted seven studies released during Sunshine Week, and 130 news articles, opinion columns and government proclamations about the right to know.

Sunshine Week was launched in 2005 through the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), with support from the Knight Foundation through major launch grants as well as its Knight First Amendment Fund. In 2019, ASNE merged with the Associated Press Media Editors to become the News Leaders Association (NLA). The Knight First Amendment Fund was transferred from the NLA to the Brechner FOI Project in December 2023 and renamed the Knight Sunshine Fund. NLA also provided trademark rights, website content and the program archive.

Posted: March 25, 2024
Category: Brechner News
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