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Freedom of Information

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Your Right to Know
Find FOI in your state

Get in touch with the Sunshine chair or chairs in your state and find FOI Centers, quotable sources, resources and more by using the menu below.

Freedom of Information
About/History
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FOI Audit Tookit | PDF
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FOI FYI: SPJ’s FOI Committee Blog
– Must read FOI stories – 7/25/14
– Must read FOI stories – 7/18/14
– FOIA should be proactive, not reactive

FOI Committee
This committee is the watchdog of press freedoms across the nation. It relies upon a network of volunteers in each state organized under Project Sunshine. These SPJ members are on the front lines for assaults to the First Amendment and when lawmakers attempt to restrict the public's access to documents and the government's business. The committee often is called upon to intervene in instances where the media is restricted.

Freedom of Information Committee Chair

David Cuillier
Assistant Professor
Department of Journalism
University of Arizona
Marshall Building, Room 323
Tucson, Ariz. 85721-0158
Work: 520/626-9694
Fax: 520/621-7557
Email
@DavidCuillier
Bio (click to expand) David Cuillier, Ph.D., is director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism, where he researches and teaches access to public records, and is co-author with Charles Davis of "The Art of Access: Strategies for Acquiring Public Records." He served as FOI chair 2007-11 before becoming a national officer and serving as SPJ president in 2013-14.

Before entering academia, he was a newspaper reporter and editor in the Pacific Northwest. He has testified before Congress on FOI issues twice and provides newsroom training in access on behalf of SPJ. His long-term goal is to see a unified coalition of journalism organizations fighting for press freedom and funded through an endowed FOI war chest.


FOI Committee Members

Sonny Albarado
Projects Editor
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
121 E. Capitol Ave.
Little Rock, AR 72201
Work: 501-244-4321
Fax: 501-372-4765
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture As projects editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock, Sonny Albarado supervises reporters on investigative and explanatory journalism assignments. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Nicholls State University, Thibodaux, La.

His 37-year journalism career includes lengthy sojourns in Baton Rouge, La., and Memphis, Tenn. He has been a reporter, an assistant city editor, a business editor (twice), a projects editor (twice) and a news editor. He also briefly edited a trade magazine dedicated to the coin-operated amusement industry.

He has been involved in the defense of the First Amendment and the free flow of information since his days as editor of his college’s student newspaper. A member of SPJ since 1979, he is currently a member of the national board of directors from Region 12 (Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee).

All awards he’s received have been the result of good editors when he was a reporter and excellent reporters since he’s been an editor.


Carolyn S. Carlson
Assistant Professor
Department of Communication
Kennesaw State University
MD2207
Kennesaw, GA 30114-5591
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture Carolyn S. Carlson is co-chairman of the SPJ FOI Committee’s Subcommittee On Campus Crime. For the past decade, she has been a leader in the effort to improve public access to records involving student discipline and crime on the nation’s college campuses. She founded the multi-organizational Campus Courts Task Force, which received an SPJ Freedom of Information Award in 1998 for its success in changing federal law to increase public access to college disciplinary records involving serious crime. Carlson has a doctorate from Georgia State University. She is an assistant professor of journalism and citizen media at Kennesaw State University. She is a former political press secretary and a longtime reporter and editor for The Associated Press. She was national president of SPJ in 1989-1990, chaired the SPJ Ethics Committee in 1993-94, received SPJ’s Wells Key in 1994, and was named to Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers in 2002, 2005 and 2006.

David Chartrand
Bio (click to expand) picture The humor and commentary of David Chartrand have appeared in publications throughout North America. His essays on families, children, education, and health issues are distributed to daily newspapers by Universal Press Syndicate as well as by his own distribution company.

David has confronted numerous First Amendment, Freedom of Information, and public-access issues during coverage of local and state government, as well as public schools.

His Web site is www.davidchartrand.com.

David is the author of, “A View from the Heartland” (2003, Globe-Pequot Press), a collection of stories and essays about midwestern families and the resiliency of the human spirit. He currently is completing work on a work of narrative nonfiction that examines attitudes toward mental illness in successful, middle-class communities.

In 2002, David received a First Place Award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Mark Victor Hansen, co-creator of the CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL book series, says that David Chartrand’s writing “embraces the mundane, everyday things that make us laugh, weep or pound the table in frustration.” David’s 1994 essay, "A Father's Letter to Santa" was included in CHICKEN SOUP: A CHRISTMAS TREASURY, where the publishers cited it as among the most memorable Christmas essays of all time.

David is a 1975 Kansas State University journalism graduate and a member of the journalism school’s advisory board.


Jodi Cleesattle
Deputy Attorney General, California Department of Justice
San Diego, CA
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture Jodi Cleesattle is a deputy attorney general for the California Department of Justice, where she works in the Civil Division in San Diego. Prior to joining the Attorney General’s Office, she was a partner at Ross, Dixon & Bell, LLP, in San Diego, where she handled media law cases and other commercial litigation. Jodi previously worked as a daily news reporter for The Lancaster (Ohio) Eagle-Gazette, covering politics and legal issues, and was founding editor of The National Jurist, a national magazine for law students. Jodi serves on SPJ's national board as Region 11 director and on SPJ’s national FOI Committee and Legal Defense Fund Committee. She is SPJ Project Sunshine Chair for Southern California and a board member of the SPJ San Diego Pro Chapter and was president of the San Diego Pro Chapter from 2007-09. She also serves as editor of Lawyers Club News, the monthly newsletter of Lawyers Club of San Diego, a bar association dedicated to the advancement of women in the law and society, and she freelances for San Diego Lawyer magazine.

Charles Davis
Bio (click to expand) picture Charles N. Davis is executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition and an associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Davis worked for nearly ten years as a journalist, working for newspapers, magazines and a news service in Georgia and Florida. As a national correspondent for Lafferty Publications, a Dublin-based news wire service for UK publications, Davis reported from the US on banking, international finance and regulatory issues for seven years before leaving full-time journalism to seek a doctorate in mass communication from the University of Florida.

At Florida, Davis served as a research fellow in the College of Journalism and Communication’s Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, assisting reporters and citizens with FOI questions at the state and federal level. He earned his Ph.D. in 1995 and has since taught at Georgia Southern University and Southern Methodist University before joining the MU faculty in 1999.


Mike Farrell
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture Mike Farrell serves as director of the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center at the University of Kentucky and as an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications. He began teaching as an adjunct in 1980 at Northern Kentucky University, continued as a graduate teaching assistant at UK in 1996, and has been a full-time faculty member there since 2000. He won the college teaching award in 2006.

He teaches reporting, media ethics, media law, journalism history, editing, media law, covering religion news and column writing.

He was a reporter, city editor and managing editor during a 20-year career at The Kentucky Post.

A native of Northern Kentucky, he earned his undergraduate degree at Moody Bible Institute, Chicago. He earned his master's and doctoral degrees at UK, where he focused on media law. He is a member of the Bluegrass Chapter and co-adviser of the UK student chapter of SPJ.


Jennifer Karchmer
Bio (click to expand) picture Jennifer Karchmer is an independent journalist who has worked in print, radio, TV and Internet-based reporting since 1991. She is a member of SPJ Western Washington Pro chapter.

In 2012, Jennifer was awarded First Place in the SPJ Northwest Excellence in Journalism Contest for her research and writing on Iceland as a free press haven. She was also awarded news citations by the Washington Press Association for her international reporting and for “The Transparency Report,” a self-produced series on the coal port proposal near Bellingham, WA.

Jennifer has worked for the Associated Press, McClatchy, Gannett and CNN. Currently, she writes for the environmental and watchdog newspaper Whatcom Watch and teaches journalism at Western Washington University.


Donald W. Meyers
Utah County Reporter
The Salt Lake Tribune
(801) 448-6106
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture Donald W. Meyers has been at a reporter at The Salt Lake Tribune since July 2007. Prior to that, he was the editorial page editor of the Daily Herald in Provo, Utah for more than eight years, as well as having been a reporter at daily and weekly newspapers in Utah and New Jersey. He majored in Journalism at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey and Brigham Young University. He is a past-president of the Utah Headliners Chapter, Society of Professional Journalists and is a member of the Utah Foundation for Open Government.

Linda Petersen
Managing Editor
The Valley Journals
801-254-5974 X 17
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture Linda Petersen is the managing editor of The Valley Journals, a group of 15 free, total market coverage, monthly community papers in the Salt Lake Valley, Utah.

She is president of the Utah Foundation for Open Government, a citizen coalition that works to educate and advocate for open government.

A past president of the Utah Headliners pro chapter, she is currently the chapter’s FOI officer and treasurer.

For her open government advocacy, she has received the Utah Press Association John E. Jones Award, the Utah Headliners Clifford P. Cheney Service to Journalism Award and the Howard S. Dubin Outstanding Pro Chapter Member Award.


Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
School of Media
Oklahoma State University
206 Paul Miller
Stillwater, OK 74078-4053
405-744-8277
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture Joey Senat, an associate journalism professor at Oklahoma State University, writes a blog, foioklahoma.blogspot.com, for FOI Oklahoma Inc., a nonprofit representing a statewide coalition of open government advocates.

His model letter for requesting public records in Oklahoma is widely used. He also wrote a citizens guide to the state’s open records and meeting laws.

Senat has spoken on FOI, First Amendment and journalism education issues at dozens of professional and academic conferences, including the AEJMC National Conference, IRE National Conference, IRE Better Watchdog Workshops and SPJ Region 8 conferences. In summer 2012, he conducted open records training sessions across the Midwest for SPJ.

For his work to advance government transparency, Senat received the 2007 Marian Opala First Amendment Award and the 2005 Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment.

Senat has been published in Quill and the IRE Journal. He reported for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., and the Tulsa (Okla.) World. He earned academic degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, Memphis State University and LSU.


Lynn Walsh
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture Lynn Walsh is an Emmy award-winning journalist who has been working in investigative journalism at the national level as well as locally in California, Ohio, Texas and Florida. Currently she leads the KNSD investigative team at the NBC TV station in San Diego, California, where she is the Investigative Executive Producer.

Most recently, she was working as data producer and investigative reporter for the E.W. Scripps National Desk producing stories for the 30+ Scripps news organizations across the country. Before moving to the national desk, she worked as the Investigative Producer at WPTV, NewsChannel 5, the Scripps owned TV station in West Palm Beach, Florida. She has won state and local awards as well as multiple Emmy’s for her stories. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for access to public information.

Her passion lies in telling multimedia stories that deliver hard hitting facts across multiple platforms. She describes herself as a "data-viz nerd" who is obsessed with new online tools to share information on the web and mobile applications.

She is a contributor to the Radio Television Digital News Association blog and serves as Secretary-Treasurer for SPJ and is a member of SPJ’s FOI, Generation J and Ethics committees.

Lynn is always interested in new projects surrounding FOI, public information access, mobile reporting tools, social media and interactive journalism. She is a proud Bobcat Alumna and graduated from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

Home > Freedom of Information > FOI for pros: A step-by-step guide

FOI for pros:
A step-by-step guide

The Society of Professional Journalists seeks to maintain constant vigilance in protecting the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and of the press and encouraging a climate in which journalism can be practiced freely. If you're unfamiliar with FOI laws, need help submitting a records request or simply don't know where to start, this guide can help.


Know before you go

Just what does the FOI law say?

Read the complete text of the Freedom of Information Act here. [nfoic.org]

What does it mean?

Federal Open Government Guide [rcfp.org]: Reporting can be greatly enhanced through use of FOIA, FACA and the Sunshine Act — and that starts with understanding how each law works.

What is your state law?

The Open Government Guide from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has a complete compendium of information on every state's open records and open meetings laws. View each state's laws individually, or compare multiple states with yours. [rcfp.org]


Write a records request

Letter generators

State Open Records Law Request Letter Generator [splc.org]
FOIA Letter Generator [rcfp.org]


What if they say they can’t give it to you because of FERPA?

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. Read the complete text of FERPA here. [ed.gov]

SPJ’s Reporter’s Guide to FERPA

Ever have a tough time getting public records from schools or universities? We feel your pain and are here to help you. The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act has been twisted beyond recognition, keeping school lunch menus, graduation honors and athletic travel records secret. Take back your right to information.


SPJ on Demand video: Handling a denial

Don't be bullied by gatekeepers. Recognize the most typical denials to watch for and the best tactics for dealing with agencies that choose to violate the law. You'll also learn about resourceful tips for reducing or eliminating copy fees. Watch in: Flash | HTML5 (SPJ membership required to see On Demand videos.)


Need some help?

Harassed/Arrested?

The Society's Legal Defense Fund is a unique account that can be tapped for providing journalists with legal or direct financial assistance. Application to the fund is approved by either a small committee or the national board, depending on the level of assistance sought. The committee works throughout the year raising funds for LDF. Learn more about LDF by following this link.


Additional free resources

SPJ FOI Toolkit

FOI Audits are a great way to monitor FOI compliance, build a group of journalists who have come up close and personal with FOI laws and demonstrate, once and for all, the weaknesses in state FOI laws. We've compiled everything you need to get started: training, do's and don'ts, document ideas for your requests and lots more.

Find FOI in your state

Get in touch with the Sunshine chair or chairs in your state and find FOI Centers, quotable sources, state FOI hotlines and more.

Open Doors: A guide to accessing government records

What would our profession do without the ability to access information held by government agencies? What would we do without state and federal Freedom of Information laws? SPJ's Open Doors project is a comprehensive guide not only to the Freedom of Information Act, but also to freedom of information in general and how it applies to your work and even your life.

SPJ pro chapters in your state:

SPJ's lengthy roster of chapters provide its backbone. The local chapter is the conduit SPJ members require to learn about events in their local journalism community as well as positions that journalists are taking nationwide on topics such as Freedom of Information and First Amendment rights. Locate, participate in and develop a chapter here.

Your Right To Federal records [publications.usa.gov]

A further explanation of the Freedom of Information Act, the Privacy Act and how to use them.

SPJ eCampus: Acquiring Records

These video training sessions are available to all SPJ members at any time and are included as part of your SPJ membership.

— 10 Must-Have Documents: Flash | HTML5
— Learning FOI Law: Flash | HTML5
— Effective Requests: Flash | HTML5
— Overcoming Denials: Flash | HTML5
— Dealing with Data: Flash | HTML5


Tell us what you think about this page

We want to know so we can make it better for you. Please email SPJ FOI Committee Chair Linda Petersen with any questions or thoughts.

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