Monday, May 25, 2015
Oh that Florida!
Ironically, one of the things that may be contributing to Florida being shamed so often in the national media is something all Floridians should be proud of.
The terms "progressive" and "model for the rest of the nation" don't often appear in sentences with "Florida," but that's exactly how people view the state's open-records laws, AKA the Government in the Sunshine Act.
Since 1909, Florida has had a proud tradition that all government business is public business and therefore should be available to the public. That means all records, including photos and videos, produced by a public agency are easily accessible with a few narrow and obvious exceptions. Public officials are also required to open all of their meetings — even unofficial ones — to the public.
However, those same laws are also the reason your mugshot appears online days after your arrest, and those laws make it incredibly easy for journalists to write about weird Florida news stories.
You'll notice something when you read so many "Weird Florida" news stories. They almost always include the phrase "according to the arrest report."
As journalists, all we have to do in most cases is call the police department and ask for an arrest report, and the cops are required to give it to us. Nowadays a lot of cops simply email the reports, and some departments even post arrest records online. Some of the more dedicated weird-Florida-news reporters go through batches of arrest reports at a time.
How Florida's Proud Open Government Laws Lead to the Shame of "Florida Man" News Stories | Miami New Times
You know, that explains a lot. It's not that Florida is crazier than the rest of the nation, it's just that the rest of the nation has decided not to air its dirty laundry.
Or in other words, Florida is the most transparent state when it comes to governance. Go figure.