December 15, 2015

Whitney N. Yarber, Communications Specialist

VSU Hosts Transparency Workshop

Pictured is Jim Zachary, editor of The Valdosta Daily Times and founder / director of the Transparency Project of Georgia and the Tennessee Transparency Project.

VALDOSTA — Valdosta State University hosted a Transparency Workshop Nov. 21 to educate college journalists on the provisions of the Georgia Open Records Act and the Georgia Open Meetings Act.

Eighty students attended the all-day event, which was presented by students in Dr. Pat Miller’s JOUR 3540: Law and Journalism class.

The workshop featured Jim Zachary, editor of The Valdosta Daily Times and founder / director of the Transparency Project of Georgia and the Tennessee Transparency Project, and Hollie Manheimer, executive director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, who provided information on the specific kinds of problems college journalists encounter.

The Transparency Project of Georgia, as part of a partnership with the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, provides information for citizens, educates public officials, and assists the media in the interest of creating greater openness in local government while holding elected representatives accountable.

The project, under the direction of Zachary, began with the work of journalists advocating for openness in local government.

Kristin Whitman, former Spectator sports editor who graduated in December 2015, plans to put the information learned during the workshop into good use when she enters the workforce in the spring. She said the knowledge gained will “help me stand my ground and fire back when another tries to shut me down in the workforce. Journalists work for the people and this project and workshop taught me that it is extremely important that I do my job to the best of my abilities to get the results that people need out of their news entity.”

Tatyana Phelps, managing editor of The Spectator who recently completed an internship as an agricultural reporter with The University of Georgia in Tifton, added, “I am ready to tackle any obstacle that may come my way regarding transparency and access.”

The Transparency Workshop was the culmination of a semester-long project where students in Miller’s Law and Journalism class developed an interactive Google Fusion Table to aid in the implementation of the Georgia Open Records Act and the Georgia Open Meetings Act. The table allows journalists to quickly scan common scenarios involving open records and meetings, including denied records and illegal meetings, to educate the individuals in charge of those records and meetings on how to comply with the law.

Miller said the idea of the table is to have it available for smart phones for journalists to use “at the point of confrontation.” The table is currently being evaluated by the Georgia Press Association.

“As the professor, I don’t think the students in the course that produced this table and hosted the Transparency Workshop on VSU’s campus understand the import of what they’ve done,” said Miller, professor in the Department of English and faculty adviser for The Spectator. “This was no mean task.  It took a semester of dedicated energy to make both of these things happen. We have benefited the students, college journalism and the profession.”

Jordan Barela, editor-in-chief of The Spectator, said the Google Fusion Table will be beneficial to the way he leads the editorial staff. It will allow “for each editor to have a powerful weapon in her or his back pocket, and arms that person to become a better journalist, and equips me to become a more effective leader.”

Phelps added, “Although I haven’t run into any situations in which I was denied access to a meeting or certain information, if it were to ever occur, I can now easily code the law that is being violated.” She described the Transparency Workshop, the Transparency Project of Georgia, and the Google Fusion Table as “extremely beneficial to any student journalist or aspiring journalist.”

Contact Dr. Pat Miller at or (229) 333-7353 for more information.

On the Web:

Valdosta State University’s 2013-2019 Strategic Plan represents a renewal of energy and commitment to the foundational principles for comprehensive institutions.

Implementation of the plan’s five goals, along with their accompanying objectives and strategies, supports VSU’s institutional mission and the University System of Georgia’s mission for comprehensive universities. 

The story above demonstrates VSU's commitment to meeting the following goals: 

Goal 3: Promote student, employee, alumni, retiree, and community engagement in our mission.

Goal 4: Foster an environment of creativity and scholarship.

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