An experiment in promoting open government was launched last week by UCF’s Nicholson School of Communication and Media – and if the project meets with good results in Winter Park, it could be expanded to other Central Florida cities.
A new grant-funded website – WinterParkSunshine.org – was set up by the school’s journalism program to help inform citizens of publicly available data and augment the region’s media, which is becoming increasingly stretched thin by new approaches to covering news. The website includes easy-to-access city commission minutes, voting and financial records, grants, contracts, salaries, public works, campaign contributions, financial-disclosure statements and other items.
News staffs at many organizations have shrunk while reporters’ beats and responsibilities covering government and other topics have been doubled up, says project director Rick Brunson ’84, an associate instructor of journalism.
“Universities are in a position to help fill this gap with creative solutions. We think this is one of them.” — Rick Brunson, associate instructor of journalism
“Universities are in a position to help fill this gap with creative solutions. We think this is one of them,” Brunson says. “Our site is a database designed to equip, inform and empower citizens to fully participate and engage in their representative democracy at its most local level. That’s right in line with the mission of journalism and our journalism program.”
Preparation on the project began in May to develop the research-based website of public records and data with a focus on public accountability.
Launching of the site – funded by a two-year, $125,000 grant from Winter Park philanthropist Glen Salow and the Salow Transparency Project – coincided with Sunshine Week in Florida, an annual media initiative to educate the public about Florida’s Government in the Sunshine laws, the importance of open government, and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy.
In addition to the already-posted information, more data sets will be added over time as the research team collects and curates more records, Brunson says.
Along with Brunson, the project is overseen by Alex Glover, a Winter Park website developer, and Nicholson graduate research assistants Raby Tall ’15 and Lindsay Manganiello.
In addition to the editorial side of this project, Nicholson lecturer Erica Kight will lead the research of the project, which will include surveys with Winter Park residents and users of the site to determine how useful it is to them and how much of an impact the site is having. The site’s analytics also will be used to determine how much it’s being used and in what ways, so that hopefully the results can be published in peer-reviewed communication journals and presented at conferences.
“The Nicholson School holds as the first point of its mission to promote ‘Free inquiry, free speech and the free flow of information and ideas,’” Brunson says. “That’s exactly what this project is about.”