Sunshine Week is a nationwide celebration of access to public information and what it means for our communities. Government works better when people know how decisions are made and tax dollars are spent.
We honor local journalists and media outlets during Sunshine Week because good reporting keeps citizens informed about the issues that matter most to our state. Nebraska is fortunate to have many hardworking journalists who embody the inscription over the main entrance to our Capitol: “The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness of the Citizen.”
Here are some standout stories we're recognizing this Sunshine Week (March 15 - 21, 2020).
- JoAnne Young is a journalist for the Lincoln Journal Star who reports on issues related to the state government. Her reporting on the poor conditions at the all-girls Youth Rehabilitation Center in Geneva kept Nebraskans well-informed of the issues at play and legislative efforts to address the problems.
- A 3 News Now investigation prompted legislators to take a second look at Nebraska's state nepotism law. Journalists Aaron Hegarty and Jeff Van Sant reported on concerns related to Dodge County Assessor Debbie Churchill hiring her daughter and son-in-law as assessors.
- For months, a new outreach office for the Nebraska State Treasurer's Office sat open without a word to the public. Paul Hammel, a journalist at the Omaha World-Herald Reporter, investigated why taxpayers were unaware they had newfound, local access to State Treasurer services.
- High lead content led to a health scare for an Omaha family interviewed by KETV NewsWatch 7. David Earl's investigation into EPA's cleanup protocol is an important watch for anyone living in the area and raises questions about environmental safety.
- Police have the vital and difficult job of protecting public safety. Performing that task should not involve violating people's civil liberties. WOWT reported on a family's concern after a police encounter with a man who has mental disabilities. Mike McKnight's story focused on the importance of training officers to respond to individuals in crisis, sharing that Omaha Police recently hired a mental health coordinator and are hiring mental health co-responders.
- Student journalists have also done important work holding public institutions accountable. The Daily Nebraskan investigated students' experiences reporting sexual misconduct to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Title IX Office. Reporting on the topic: students Sydney Brun Ozuna, Mia Everding, John Grinvalds, Jessica Larkins, Ben Larsen, Elizabeth Rembert, Grace Gorenflo, Libby Seline, and Luna Stephens. Their reporting - during the #MeToo movement - prompted formation of the "Dear UNL" advocacy group and the Chancellor’s Campuswide Collaborative on Sexual Misconduct, which is evaluating current UNL policies pertaining to sexual violence.
- Likewise, The Gateway at UNO has reported on topics important to students there, with recent reporting ranging from campus parking policies to the closing of a fraternity.
Of course, that's just a sample. Nebraska is lucky to have experienced, diligent reporters across the state. Email us with recommendations for other outlets to spotlight this week and you might see them on our social media channels.