Meet the local paper that’s ‘raising hell’ to keep government open

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The Jacksonville-based Florida Times Union is a rare outlier these days, a mid-sized regional paper willing to fight big open-government battles even as most media organizations cut back on the resources they devote to forcing officials to do their work in public.

The paper has been aggressively enforcing the state’s expansive Sunshine Law, going to court in three recent cases to compel officials to open meetings and court proceedings and release records. At times, the paper has mounted these battles to get key information for a major article. In other cases, they took on a fight even when editors and reporters expected no story would result. They did it on principle.

“We’re teaching government officials they can’t throw the public out of public meetings and they can’t withhold public records,” said Frank Denton, the Times-Union’s editor. “If there is a perception out there that the media is weak because of what has happened in the newspaper industry, we’re letting them know that we’re still here, we’re still strong, and we’re still raising hell.”

This is a battle Denton’s been fighting for 40 years. In the column, he recalled how he had sworn out a criminal complaint against the entire board of trustees of a local public hospital for violating the open meetings law back when he was a cub reporter at The Anniston Star in Alabama.

Meet the local paper that’s ‘raising hell’ to keep government open