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Voice of OC Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Norberto Santana, Jr. joined other Orange County journalists in a panel discussion centered on media difficulties in obtaining public records and covering local meetings.

The event, timed with the national Sunshine Week, was organized by the Orange County Press Club.

“The pandemic created unprecedented challenges for journalists, the Orange County press was not immune. Newsroom employees were furloughed, laid off or re-assigned to beats outside of their expertise,” said Moderator Daniel Langhorne to start the discussion. Langhorne is an OC Press Club Board Member and is managing editor of the Laguna Beach Indy and engagement editor for The Warhorse.

“Those journalists who were fortunate to remain into the trenches encountered numerous, persistent challenges in accessing public meetings and documents.”

“I don’t think there’s one story we do that doesn’t rest on public records, Santana said. “A lot of that information doesn’t come out if you don’t file public records requests.”

He urged local public agencies to proactively make records, pending decisions and actions easily accessible to the public, saying keeping things quiet just fuels conspiracies and questions about what is being hidden.

Orange County Register Reporter Ian Wheeler said that he has found access to the government has been mixed since the pandemic. Sometimes he said you can see workers having technical issues or learning on the job on how to make sure meetings are broadcast virtually, officials mics are on and that documents can be retrieved and sent. 

“It really seems to depend on the agency and how prepared they became once the pandemic reared its head as a big problem and in some cases there are still agencies not equipped with the resources they need for public records requests or even to handle basic questions from reporters,” Wheeler said.

San Clemente Times City Editor Shawn Raymundo said he has seen generally good compliance in south county for access to meetings and documents. 

Watch the live video discussion recording on the Press Club’s Facebook page HERE.

Comments from the public on the video included:

  • “Thank you for this meeting! I am with you on fighting for transparency!”
  • “I try to get responses back immediately…unfortunately, sometimes I don’t have direct access and have to depend on staff from other departments, which often takes longer…[I’m the Laguna Beach City Clerk]”
  • “Government officials should have to post online searchable data bases containing all public records requests and the records provided.”
  • “$1,000 for VOC’s request to the Sheriff’s department!”
  • “Agencies are using the pandemic as an excuse to not be fully accessible!”
  • “I applaud how VOC has embraced that epithet. #NOC
  • “First days of pandemic HCA chose to protect high profile cities from “stigma “ of Covid cases rather than release of cases to public view.”

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