San Diego A year ago last month, San Diego Union-Tribune editor Karin Winner was fiercely crusading for "Sunshine Week," an effort by the American Society of Newspaper Editors to focus attention on the problem of getting stubborn government agencies to open their records to the public. In a "Dear Readers" letter on the front page of the Sunday U-T, Winner boasted that "we shine white-hot spotlights on your government." She went on to list all the things the U-T was doing to mark the occasion. "Throughout these pages this week, we will bring focus to your right -- an individual's right -- to access government. We offer specific help tomorrow with a full page in the Metro section that tells you where you can get certain information and how to go about obtaining it." Concluded Winner, "During Sunshine Week, I urge you to contemplate the freedoms we all often take for granted. Think about the responsibilities that come with them: To act. To search out information. To hold those who represent you accountable. To vote. As journalists, we are privileged to report on the democratic process -- and we believe our watchdog role is the most meaningful of all."
This year's Sunshine Week, however, was a different story. There was no editor's message, no articles chronicling heroic efforts the U-T had taken to uncover public records nor special webpage advising the citizenry how to make their own Public Records Act requests. The U-T's only reference to Sunshine Week was contained in a small midweek editorial suggesting that the newspaper had given up the good fight. "The news on this front is not particularly good.... Unfortunately, politicians sometimes get away with defining any push for openness as a media power play. Instead, this effort should be seen as crucial to democracy. The less we know about our government, the more incompetence and corruption we can expect." ... Meanwhile, a high-powered advertising sales exec has departed Copley Newspapers, owner of the U-T, to become vice president of advertising for the Baltimore Sun, owned by the troubled Tribune Company of Chicago. Linda Hastings had been publisher of Today's Local News, the U-T's home-delivered freebie that was once supposed to provide an antidote to the main paper's declining circulation numbers but ended up turning into an expensive albatross. Hastings had been recruited by Copley from her own publication, Loot, a weekly classified vehicle distributed on 2700 newsstands in New York City, reports Editor & Publisher.