Twitter Facebook Google Plus Pinterest Storify
Society of Professional Journalists
Improving and protecting journalism since 1909

Advertise with SPJ

News and More
Click to Expand Instantly

SPJ News
Events and Deadlines
SPJ Blogs
Quill Online
Journalist's Toolbox

Stay in Touch
Twitter Storify Facebook Google Plus
RSS Pinterest Pinterest Flickr

Tools for Educators
Let SPJ help guide the way
Collegiate Institutional Memberships
Sourcebook Teaching Plan
Public Records Teaching Plan
J-Ed Committee

Education Committee

This committee's purpose is to promote excellence in education programs and practical research. It acts as a clearinghouse for the Society's academic members and students. It also works with annual convention planners on mentor programs both at the college and high school level.

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
Annual FOI Reports
FOI Committee Roster

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 > Finding that dream house without FOI nightmares

Freedom of Information
Finding that dream house without FOI nightmares

How to make access to public records relevant in reporting and law classes through a house and neighborhood document background search

By David Cuillier

Sponsored by CCJA, SPIG, Scholastic Journalism Division and International Communication Division


This assignment provides hands-on experience for reporting or media law students in learning how freedom of information laws work by digging through public documents about a house for sale. This assignment motivates students because of its practical relevancy to their careers and personal lives. By the end of the project, students demonstrate stronger support for open government.


Access to public records is essential for democracy, yet many students do not understand how to request documents or its importance in society. This assignment makes access real, relevant, and important to their lives.

Document projects have been found to improve reporting skills, such as through backgrounding individuals in a cemetery (Carol S. Lomicky 2002 GIFT grand prize winner), or conducting access audits of campus or local government agencies (see Terry Wimmer’s 2002 “Project Access” GIFT, as well as the Society of Professional Journalists’ FOI audit toolkit).

This project builds on the cemetery and government audit exercises by focusing on a subject that is relevant to students’ personal lives, thereby increasing motivation, which Bandura’s social learning theory suggests is essential for attitude and behavioral change.


Available for Download
Download a copy of the supplementary handout, "Access for Everyday Life," which contains a list of free government records that can help you buy a home, as well as links to resources that can aid the process.

Week 1
Teams of three to five students are each given the address of a house for sale in the community and told to find out as much about the house and neighborhood as they can from physically acquired public records — no Internet information or people sources. Ideally, assigned houses should be near proposed developments, airport flight paths, or a registered sex offender to better illustrate the value of records.

Students are encouraged to think of potentially useful public records on their own, but are provided a list of ideas to get them started:
• Property tax records including assessed value, owner’s name, taxes paid and square footage.
• Police reports and sex offender registries.
• Development plans, including road plans, proposed commercial development and zoning for future development.
• Parks plans.
• Airport flight pattern maps that show sound levels.
• School test scores to compare schools.
• EPA records regarding hazardous chemicals and polluted sites.
• Nuisance complaints reported to the city.

Week 2
Students research access laws, primarily state open records laws. They identify the records they will need and what agencies have them, divvying up the responsibility by agency so every student requests records.

Week 3
Students create and submit public records request letters (online generator for each state at They are instructed to take good notes through the process so they can describe what they did, how the government responded and the outcome. In class they should learn strategies for accessing records.

Weeks 4-8
Students work to get the records. A progress report is due at week 6.

Week 9
Final reports are due that include a team paper describing the neighborhood and house based on what was found in public records, as well as individual papers from each student explaining the law, what they requested, and how they handled the request. Also, students are asked to describe their attitudes toward open government and personal privacy. Teams present their findings to the class.

For a variation of this assignment, teams can access records on campus regarding topics relevant to their lives, such as crime, faculty salaries, class grade distributions, alcohol abuse and department budgets. Students at private universities, where records might be more difficult to acquire, can still do the house-buying exercise.


Students like this assignment because they become fluent in the law, learn strategies for accessing public records and feel confident in applying this knowledge to their jobs and personal lives.

Class presentations illustrate the successes and problems of access — a surly clerk who crumples a request and tosses it in the garbage, or a pleasant official who takes the afternoon to help find the information. They learn to be skeptical and are astounded at the amount of information that is available to the public.

Also, this assignment increases support for access. Pretest-postest surveys fall 2005 in a media law course found that students who did this project demonstrated greater support for open government than students who did projects on other topics, such as libel or copyright. It is uplifting to see students develop journalistic skills and principles from one assignment.

“I’m glad I got to do this because I think it is really helpful for my job and personal life in the future,” wrote one student in evaluations. Another wrote, “The thing I learned most was how much power I have in accessing information!”

Copyright © 1996-2015 Society of Professional Journalists. All Rights Reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center
3909 N. Meridian St.
Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789

Contact SPJ Headquarters
Employment Opportunities
Advertise with SPJ