FSNE operational goals 2014-15 – From President Frank Denton

FSNE operational goals 2014-15 – From President Frank Denton

Dear FSNE member:

I’d like to update you on FSNE activities and plans since our successful convention in Coral Gables.

Board appointments

Your board of directors has made these appointments:

Mindy Marques, executive editor of The Miami Herald, is secretary-treasurer, meaning she will be president in 2016-17.

Jennifer Orsi, managing editor of the Tampa Bay Times; Rosemary Goudreau, editorial page editor of the Sun-Sentinel, and Tristram Korten, editor of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, join the board.

Committee chairs

Vice President Doug Ray has agreed to chair the Contest Committee for one more year.

Rosemary Goudreau will chair the Sunshine Committee.

Bill Church of Sarasota will continue to chair the Vision Committee.

David Plazas, digital engagement editor, The News-Press Media Group, will chair the convention Program Committee.


Below is a summary of committee plans and ideas. We hope members will offer other ideas – and volunteer to work on a committee, since “chair” implies members!

Sunshine Committee – Rosemary Goudreau, chair

Rosemary Goudreau will lead a reimagining of Sunshine Week. That will be the major topic of the fall board meeting Oct. 25 at the Poynter Institute. Some of us will have attended the Oct. 23-24 National FOI Coalition conference, which will provide fuel for our own Sunshine thinking.

Some of the biggest freedom of information threats we face now:

o   Fees charged by records custodians. These can be in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, with custodians sometimes picking their most expensive employees to process the records – and including those employees’ benefits.
o   Reimbursement of attorneys’ fees. Though the sunshine statutes provide for the reimbursement of fees paid by successful plaintiffs, there seems to be an increasing reluctance for judges to grant them. One appeal, just on such fees, is pending at the state Supreme Court. Not being reimbursed for legal costs will chill pursuit of sunshine cases.
o   A record number of new open-government exemptions were proposed in the Legislature this year.
Here are some of the ideas the Sunshine Committee will consider:
  • Create a “report card” for citizens to use in evaluating their local-government websites. This follows on our 2013 Sunshine Week project of students’ evaluating local-government websites.
  • Increase newspaper participation in the 2014 Sunshine Week project by communication, encouragement, monitoring. Get word out to newspapers earlier. And include editorial page editors.
  • Produce an eight-part (Sunday-Sunday) series on current open-government issues, with each part produced by a different newspaper or AP, working collaboratively. Common promotion, centrally created. Encourage editorials. Include editorial cartoons. Create a format to ease localization.
  • Come up with an accepted standard of what a citizen should have to pay for public records. Should this culminate in legislation or a lawsuit?
  • Survey working journalists (maybe RNTDA too) about their Sunshine experiences?
  • Need: Rapid-response team on threats to freedom of information – FAF, FSNE, FPA.
  • Propose that newspapers produce a page or pages blacking out stories that relied on open-government laws.
  • Find ways to get students more involved.

Contest Committee – Doug Ray, chair

Entries in, and therefore revenue from, the FSNE contest are down, and we need to make our contest more prestigious and therefore more competitive and successful.

Some ideas:

  • Strengthen the judging by recruiting a panel of respected journalists and paying honoraria. Emphasize the quality of the judging when soliciting entries.
  • “Educate” editors, so they will make our contest top priority among state contests. Use social media. Letter to editors from FSNE president.
  • Create congratulatory ads centrally and provide to winning newspapers/websites for their use – to promote the news organization in the community and to create pride and prestige within the newsroom. We are starting this program this year, in conjunction with FPA, so if your newsroom was a winner this year, expect an array of ads – and please see that they are published.
  • Add a college competition, to deepen student interest in journalism and to get more revenue.
  • Reevaluate content and circulation categories in the future. Challenge print-based categories.


Doug Ray and Gil Thelen will propose improvements at the October meeting.

Vision Committee – Bill Church, chair

Bill Church asked board members to rank FSNE’s priorities. Here is his report:

We had eight responses – not a large sample – but results showed a small variance. We had one write-in for “Sunshine Work,” which I assume will remain a priority.
I analyzed the responses based upon the board’s view of the most urgent and most important priorities. The thinking is that priorities that are urgent AND important should be done immediately. (I’ll spare you the dissertation behind this decision-making model.)
Here are the top-tier priorities that deserve immediate attention:
1.         Seek partnerships tied to our mission.
2.         Expand membership recruiting
3.         Develop staff succession plan.
4.         Change/grow contest.
            The next tier includes:
5.         Strengthen social-media engagement.
6.         Redo the website.
7.         Explore UF partnerships.
It’s important to note that these priorities are not mutually exclusive.

Out of that, Bill and David Plazas are developing proposed action steps to strengthen the FSNE brand by expanding partnerships and growing the value of membership. (Social media and a vibrant digital strategy fit in as tactics, as does a possible relocations to a journalism school.)

In addition, the board will address FSNE’s financial outlook by improving and expanding the contest and exploring other revenue streams – including working to expand membership by being sure all Florida newspapers are members and by adding additional members at some newspapers.

While there is no urgency, the FSNE officers will develop a staff succession/reorganization plan.

Legal action

Your executive committee decided to have FSNE join AP, the First Amendment Foundation and a number of other journalism companies and organizations to file an amicus brief in the redistricting lawsuit. As you know, on July 8, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis tossed out the Legislature’s congressional map for violating the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2010.

During the trial, Lewis privately heard testimony from a Gainesville consultant involved in the redistricting then sealed the consultant’s documents as privileged.

Lewis’ ruling is being appealed to the state Supreme Court, and the media organizations’ amicus brief will ask that court to unseal the evidence. Even if the court considers the documents to be privileged, the brief will argue that they should be unsealed because they were used as evidence at trial and the court cited them in its decision as the basis for finding a “conspiracy to influence and manipulate the Legislature into a violation of its constitutional duty.”

The AP’s lawyer said the main issue before the Court is whether the documents are privileged under the First Amendment’s right of association, but our brief would focus solely on the unsealing of the documents.  In theory, the court could rule solely on the privilege issue, but given that the parties are making arguments to the court on the sealing issue, it seems that now is likely the right time to make our arguments. The worst case scenario, according to the AP lawyer, is that we are heard on the issue and, if the court declines to decide, we could always petition the district court to unseal the documents later.

If the Supreme Court allows the amicus, a brief probably would be due around the end of the month.

All of us on your FSNE board welcome your reaction and ideas on these and other priorities.  Please get in touch with any of us anytime.

We will have a great year!


Frank Denton