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AP Sunshine Week collaboration shines light on chronic barriers for open records

Dana Holladay-Hollifield poses for a photo in front of Hunstville Hospital, in Huntsville, Ala., Feb. 27, 2024. Holladay-Hollifield has worked as a nurse in Alabama for years, but never was her pay as low as it was at Huntsville Hospital. AMANDA SHAVERS / THE CULLMAN TIMES VIA AP

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The AP’s Local News Success team has made collaborations with key newspaper and member groups a cornerstone of their efforts. These member groups are drawn to the AP’s expertise to help connect the dots on major thematic coverage, and the team contributes to building even stronger relationships with our members. This led to a top-notch collaboration to mark Sunshine Week, the annual event to support open government.

The AP collaborated with CNHI, a newspaper chain with dozens of newspapers around the country, to address a nagging question: Just how broken is the open records process?

The result was a 50-state package that included several dramatic examples of citizens facing a decision: whether to fork over thousands of dollars to bring lawsuits to access records that in theory should be available to all. The lead anecdote was a compelling underdog story — a nurse in Alabama who worked at a public hospital and wanted to know what executives at the facility earned. Josh Kelety helped flesh out the narrative to broaden beyond the one example. David Lieb contributed to a widely shared Localize It guide, Koko Nakajima delivered a visually appealing 50-state interactive, and Matt Rourke provided photos.

The stories appeared on 40 CNHI news sites across the U.S., along with front pages in publications from Hawaii to Pennsylvania and the collaboration won rave reviews from CNHI’s senior leaders.

Our Localize It guide was downloaded by dozens of newsrooms in AP Newsroom. The Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University shared the guide with the more than 350 news organizations in its network, and the National Press Club Journalism Institute distributed the guide to its 5,000 newsletter subscribers.

For delivering a standout package that offers a model for collaborating with AP members, Josh Kelety, Koko Nakajima, Matt Rourke and David Lieb are Best of the Week — Second Winner.

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