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BC-US--Sunshine Week, ADVISORY, US

March 6, 2019

Dear Editors and News Directors:

Sunshine Week focuses attention on access to public information, open government and journalism’s role in promoting transparency. But what if there is no news outlet to shine the light? Over the past 15 years, newspaper closures and consolidations have left more than 1,400 cities across the U.S. without their main source of regular local news. What that loss means to the community and the ability to hold officials and government institutions accountable is the focus of this year’s Sunshine Week.

The American Society of News Editors launched the first national Sunshine Week in 2005 to coincide with the March 16 birthday of James Madison, father of the Constitution and a key advocate of the Bill of Rights. This year, ASNE, The Associated Press and Associated Press Media Editors mark the occasion with a package that examines a new and troubling trend across American journalism: the loss or diminishment of local news coverage. Sunshine Week begins this Sunday, March 10.

As a companion piece, the AP also is re-launching its Sunshine Hub, a digital tool that tracks anti- and pro-transparency legislation in every state. That tool is accompanied by an investigation into how local law enforcement agencies handle requests to release police video footage.

The following stories and multimedia content will move in advance this week under embargo for use beginning Sunday, March 10, and throughout Sunshine Week. The Fading Light story and its sidebar are being released in time for Sunday print publications and will move live at 12:01 a.m. Eastern time on Sunday. The Police Videos story will move next week.

For information about the overall project, contact Tom Verdin, editor of the AP’s state government team, at taverdin@ap.org

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Moved in advance on Tuesday, March 5, for use Sunday and thereafter:

SUNSHINE WEEK-FADING LIGHT

WAYNESVILLE, Mo. _ Five minutes late, Darrell Todd Maurina sweeps into a meeting room and plugs in his laptop computer. He places a Wi-Fi hotspot on the table and turns on a digital recorder. The earplug in his left ear is attached to a police scanner in his pants pocket. He wears a tie; Maurina insists upon professionalism. He is the press_ in its entirety. A Facebook blogger, he is the only person who has come to the Pulaski County courthouse to tell residents what their commissioners are up to, the only one who will report on their deliberations _ specifically, their discussions about how to satisfy the Federal Emergency Management Agency so it will pay to repair a road inundated in a 2013 flood. Last September, Waynesville became a statistic. With the shutdown of its newspaper, the Daily Guide, this town of 5,200 people in central Missouri’s Ozark hills joined more than 1,400 other cities in the United States to lose a newspaper over the past 15 years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University North Carolina. Blame revenue siphoned by online competition, cost-cutting ownership, a death spiral in quality, sheer disinterest among readers or reasons peculiar to given locales for that development. While national outlets worry about a president who calls the press an enemy, many Americans no longer have someone watching the city council for them, chronicling the soccer exploits of their children or reporting on the kindly neighbor who died of cancer. Local journalism is dying in plain sight. By David Bauder and David A. Lieb. 2,000 words. Photos. Video. An Abridged version also is moving.

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Moved in advance on Tuesday, March 5, for use Sunday and thereafter:

SUNSHINE WEEK-FADING LIGHT-ACCOUNTABILITY

CONCORD, N.H. _ Newspapers typically have played the lead watchdog role in their communities, holding local officials accountable for their statements and actions, filing public records requests to shine light on government agencies, even filing lawsuits or seeking changes to state law as a way to promote transparency. With the newspaper industry in steep decline, that role is being lost in many areas of the country. The lack of oversight by a vigorous press gives elected officials and government bureaucrats a free space to do what they want without fear that it will be exposed. With no watchdog to shine the light, corruption and waste can flourish. By Michael Casey. 700 words. Photo.

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Moving in advance on Wednesday, March 6, for use Sunday and thereafter:

SUNSHINE WEEK-FADING LIGHT-COLUMN

It is a story of corruption that will stay secret, politicians who will need fewer votes to win, even dangerous communicable diseases that will spread faster as our best scientists struggle to fight them. The story is the slow and painful demise of local newspapers. Whether you follow the news or not, whether you trust journalists or not, the financial challenges slaying local newspapers will affect your community, your wallet, your quality of life. By Joyce Terhaar/ASNE. 900 words. Photo.

With:

_ A selection of images by editorial cartoonists.

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Moving in advance on Monday, March 11, for use Wednesday, March 13, and thereafter:

SUNSHINE WEEK-POLICE VIDEOS

Police officers are suspended after allegedly beating a teen suspect in West Virginia. An Iowa police sergeant is fired over a traffic stop involving a black teenager that he insists he handled appropriately. And a 22-year-old Georgia man ends up dead after a struggle with a trooper and allegedly shooting himself, an explanation his friends doubt. Each incident was captured by officers’ body cameras in recent months, and the videos could show the public whether the police acted appropriately or not. But in each case, police departments have opted against transparency and refused to release the videos in response to public records requests by The Associated Press. Body cameras have been sold to the public and policymakers in recent years as a breakthrough tool to increase transparency in policing and build public trust. But a review by The Associated Press finds that departments routinely withhold videos of high-profile shootings and other incidents for months when requested, if they ever release them at all. A patchwork of state laws and local policies around the country gives great discretion to police chiefs and prosecutors to determine whether, and when, to release the videos. By Ryan J. Foley. 1,500 words. Photos. Video. An Abridged version also is moving.

With:

_ Sunshine Hub, an online transparency tool developed by AP for its customers’ use that tracks state legislative attempts to alter the flow of public information.

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ABOUT SUNSHINE HUB:

Sunshine Hub is an online transparency tool that can be accessed by AP customers. The news organization worked with freedom of information experts to create the tool, which tracks state legislative attempts to alter the flow of public information. This includes bills that seek to make certain information off-limits to the public or harder to access.

The bills have been collected here: https://sunshine.ap.org

The link is accessible to anyone with an AP member account. Members who have not signed up for other AP services can create an account through APImages. After registering, the newly created account credentials can be used to access the Sunshine Hub.

The hub provides detailed information about each bill dealing with government transparency and has a number of features reporters and editors will find useful. Reporters will be able to follow the progress of individual bills, sort bills by topic, post comments and suggest legislation to add. Send feedback to datateam@ap.org

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The AP