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Freedom of Information

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SPJ News: SPJ, NFOIC combine war chests to fight for Freedom of Information
SPJ News: U.S. Forest Service ‘wins’ 2014 SPJ Black Hole Award for interfering with flow of important public information
SPJ News: Survey: Public not receiving information it needs due to PIO restrictions
SPJ News: SPJ supports AP in lawsuit seeking to force the State Department to release Clinton emails
SPJ News: SPJ joins amicus brief in West Virginia coal mine case
SPJ News: SPJ joins amicus brief in Montana open records case
SPJ News: SPJ urges Virginia lawmakers to reject execution secrecy bill
SPJ News: Statement by SPJ President Neuts on latest FOIA reform bills
Quill: FOI Toolbox
SPJ News: SPJ’s Black Hole Award is open for nominations through Feb. 27

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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
Covering Prisons
Project Sunshine: Find FOI Help
Accessing Government Records
Shield Law Campaign
FOI Audit Tookit | PDF
Anti-SLAPP: Protect Free Speech
Official Secrets Act bill
FOI Groups
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FOI FYI: SPJ’s FOI Committee Blog
– Every year has 52 ‘sunshine’ weeks
– SPJ FOI Hangout
– Digital public records access blocked from the White House to City Hall

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
Director and Associate Professor
School of Journalism
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721
Work: 520-626-9694
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
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 and an honorary doctor of letters from Nicholls State University, Thibodaux, La.

His journalism career of more than 40 years 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), a news editor and a city 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 a past president of SPJ and a current member of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.

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.

Ana-Klara H. Anderson, Ph.D., Esq.
Thomas & LoCicero PL
601 South Boulevard
Tampa, Florida 33606
Work: 813-984-3069
Fax: 813-984-3070
Bio (click to expand) picture Ana-Klara Anderson is an associate in Thomas & LoCicero’s Tampa office and frequently handles litigation and transactional matters for English and Spanish-language media clients in the areas of First Amendment law, sweepstakes and contests, commercial litigation, and arts and entertainment law. She earned her J.D. from the University of Florida Levin College of Law and her Ph.D. from UF’s College of Journalism and Communications. Ana-Klara has worked as a freelance journalist for the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post, and as a news clerk for the Washington Post. Before graduate school, she served as an officer in the United States Marine Corps during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in Iraq.

Carolyn S. Carlson
Assistant Professor
Department of Communication
Kennesaw State University
Kennesaw, GA 30114-5591
Bio (click to expand) picture Carolyn S. Carlson has written reports for SPJ's 2012, 2013 and 2014 Sunshine Week projects on surveys she conducted on the strained relationship between reporters and government public information officers. She also chairs the SPJ FOI Committee’s Subcommittee On FERPA. She has also 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 and her bachelors from the University of Georgia. She is an assistant professor of journalism at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta. 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.

Jodi Cleesattle
Deputy Attorney General
California Department of Justice
San Diego, CA
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
Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of Georgia
120 Hooper Street
Athens, GA 30602
Work: 706-248-6636

Mike Farrell
Director, Scripps Howard First Amendment Center
Associate professor
School of Journalism & Telecommunications
144 Grehan
University of Kentucky
Lexington, Ky 40506-0042
859-257-4848 (w)
859-431-2057 (h)
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.

Kathryn Foxhall
Freelance Reporter
Washington, D.C., area
3921 Crittenden St.
Hyattsville, Maryland 20781
Work: 301-779-8239
Bio (click to expand) picture Kathryn Foxhall has covered health in Washington for almost 40 years, including 14 years (1978-1992) as editor of the American Public Health Association’s newspaper.

She accidently became a reporter after applying for a typing job at the now defunct Selma Free-Press in Selma, Alabama, with her new B.A. from Birmingham-Southern College.

Currently freelancing for Contemporary Pediatrics and other publications, she previously worked for the American Psychological Association’s magazine and for newsletters on substance abuse and medical coding.

After years of getting a dynamic education by speaking frankly with sources on Capitol Hill and in federal agencies, she became alarmed as federal workers came under rules prohibiting them from communicating with journalists without the oversight of the public relations offices—in reality oversight by people in power.

That concern has led to a number of efforts including doing “shoe leather” work on the letter to President Obama from 38 journalism and other groups in 2014.

Ashley Jost
Higher education reporter
Columbia Daily Tribune
101 N. 4th Street
Columbia, Mo.
Office: 573-815-1721
Cell: 314-397-5484

Jennifer Karchmer
Independent journalist
RWB Correspondent
2505 Monroe Street
Bellingham, WA 98225
518 569-9118
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 is based in France studying freedom of the press in Europe. She is an internationally accredited TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher.

Danielle McLean
Somerville Journal
91 Glenwood Road, Apt. 1
Somerville, Mass., 02145
Phone: 508-725-8716
Bio (click to expand) picture Over the past three years, Danielle McLean has been the reporter for 13 different community beats at numerous news publications around Massachusetts. She is currently a reporter for the Somerville Journal, a weekly newspaper owned by GateHouse Media New England- covering a Boston-area city of more than 75,000 residents. McLean covers Somerville's rapidly-changing demographic shift, massive development surge, and acts as a watchdog while the government pushes more and more initiatives that encourage those changes.

The Hofstra graduate was elected President of SPJ's New England chapter in December. Since, the chapter has hosted a successful Region 1 conference at Boston University, has grown enrollment, and added five new board members.

Last winter, McLean was given a New England Newspaper and Press Association government reporting award for her coverage on a proposed development in Maynard, Massachusetts.

Linda Petersen
Managing Editor
The Valley Journals
12702 Ann Christine Ct.
Riverton, Utah
801-254-5974 X 17
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
Bio (click to expand) picture Joey Senat, an associate journalism professor at Oklahoma State University, writes a blog,, 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
Investigative Executive Producer
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 students: A step-by-step guide

FOI for students:
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. []

What does it mean?

Federal Open Government Guide []: 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. []

Write a records request

Letter generators

State Open Records Law Request Letter Generator []
FOIA Letter Generator []

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. []

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.)

Does all this stuff not make sense?

Legal Advice

Talk to a real person who can answer real questions at the Student Press Law Center:

Know Your Rights
Virtual Lawyer
SPLC Legal Request Form


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 and student 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 []

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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