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Sunshine Week

Billings Gazette staffers regularly review public documents and attend public meetings to cover local and state news. Our readers have the same right to attend those meetings and read those documents, but busy people usually don’t.

That’s why Gazette reporters are in court and at Billings City Council, Yellowstone County Commission and Billings school board. Our reporters research, listen and analyze. They tweet, write for print and online editions so Gazette readers can easily find out what their government is doing.

Gazette journalists are in Helena keeping track of legislation in the biennial session that will set a state budget for the next two years. Back in Billings, other Gazette staffers listen to committee hearings and floor debate on bills that could significantly impact the Billings region, Eastern Montana and the entire state.

Sometimes we make errors. That’s why we have a corrections box on page 2A every day. The facts that were correct one day, can later change. That’s why we present follow-up reports.

Journalists have a deep appreciation for freedom of information. It’s part of our job to defend that freedom and to exercise it so that citizens can make well-informed decisions for themselves.

At The Gazette and other newspapers, we understand the difference between “news” and “opinion." But the line has been blurred for many readers because many public officials have taken to calling any news they dislike “fake news.”

The number of letters to the editor complaining about news they don’t like has increased in the past year. A few have complained that the opinion page shouldn’t have opinions.

The Gazette opinion pages provide a forum for writers in our region of Montana and Wyoming to express their opinions on issues of public interest. On letters, we limit length so that we can print as many different writers as possible.

Since mid-January, The Gazette has received more letters than at any time other than the weeks before a general election. Opinion editors across the country report similar increases in letter volume. The Gazette welcomes this influx of comments and has been printing more letters, even full extra pages of letters.

The flood of opinions has meant that it may take more than a week to get a letter printed. Folks who plan to write in about time-sensitive issues, such as the May 2 school elections and May 25 special U.S. House election, should send their comments early.

Occasionally, readers ask why Gazette opinions are unsigned. The Gazette opinions don’t carry a writer’s name because they represent the opinion of the newspaper. These editorials are reviewed prior to publication by members of the Gazette editorial board, led by Publisher Mike Gulledge. The opinions expressed in an editorial don’t necessarily reflect the view of the writer or each editorial board member, but rather the prevailing view on the board.

The jobs of local journalists in Billings and around the country have become more challenging in recent years. Deadlines are no longer daily, but hourly. There’s more pressure to be first with news online and fewer reporters and editors to get the news to you.

So we try to work smarter, using technology to help gather the news and transmit it efficiently.

What hasn’t changed is our dedication to the tenets of good journalism as stated in the Society of Professional Journalists’ guiding principles:

1. Seek the truth and report it as fully as possible.

2. Act independently.

3. Minimize harm.

This week, journalists across America are observing Sunshine Week. It reminds us to talk to our readers and viewers about why freedom of information and open government laws are important — not just to journalists, but to all Americans who value truth and freedom.

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