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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.

Home > Freedom of Information > Sunshine Week > FOI Activities for Newsrooms

Sunshine Week Logo
Your right to know  •  March 15-21, 2015

FOI Activities for Newsrooms

Here are some activities you can get rolling in your newsroom to educate and inspire co-workers. Also check the page listing ideas for chapters, which might be applicable for your news organization. Make sure to invite top managers to develop buy-in at the highest levels.

Sunshine Week 2014: Two new studies released

On the eve of Sunshine Week 2014, SPJ released the results from two surveys about journalists’ experience with obtaining public information. The studies were led by Dr. Carolyn S. Carlson — a communication professor from Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga., and a member of SPJ’s Freedom of Information committee — and Megan Roy, Carlson’s graduate research assistant.

The surveys specifically document reporters’ perceptions about whether government press offices interfere with reporting.

The first survey was of political and general assignment reporters working at the state and local level. The vast majority of reporters who took this survey said the amount of control has been increasing over the past several years and they see it only getting worse over the next few years. They agreed the current level of media control by PIOs is an impediment to providing information to the public. Download and read the complete report [PDF, 468 KB] here.

For the second survey, SPJ joined with the Education Writers Association to focus on the nation's education reporters. Journalists indicated that public information officers often require pre-approval for interviews, decide whom reporters get to interview and often monitor interviews. Sometimes they will prohibit interviews altogether. Education writers overwhelmingly agreed with the statement that “the public was not getting all the information it needs because of barriers agencies are imposing on journalists’ reporting practices.” Download and read the complete report [PDF, 417 KB] here.

Transcripts of remarks from the National Press Club’s “When Press Offices Block the Press” event [PDF]
Introduction by Kathryn Foxhall
Carolyn Carlson
SPJ President David Cuillier
Emily Richmond, EWA Public Editor

Sunshine Week Web site
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SPJ's Black Hole Award: The Society of Professional Journalists launched the Black Hole Award in order to highlight the most heinous violations of the public’s right to know. By exposing examples of unnecessary and harmful secrecy, we hope to educate the public to their rights and hold government accountable. In the past, this award has been given annually. This year, the Freedom of Information committee adapted the rules so that the Black Hole Award is given on an as-needed basis. To view past winners, visit the Black Hole Award web page.

Reporter’s Guide to FERPA: Navigating the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act: 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 Education 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 with this guide, produced by the Society of Professional Journalists in conjunction with the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

Brown-bag share session

Some of the best resources for FOI are in the neighboring cubicles. Get the gang together and share public records ideas and request strategies. It’s amazing what we can learn is available in our communities across beats.

Take other FOI experts to lunch

Invite other types of FOI experts to lunch to talk about how they use access laws, such as private investigators, federal government depository librarians, Realtors, court clerks, commercial information providers, or leader of the local genealogy club. They tap into records in ways that we don’t think of, leading to potential new records and story ideas.

Post FOI editorial cartoons

A great way to foster FOI is to post editorial cartoons on the subject on bulletin boards and cubicle walls. Check out a plush archive of cartoons regarding access to public meetings and record provided for 2007 Sunshine Week.

Sponsor SPJ FOI training

SPJ provides FOI training for newsrooms, provided enough people will show up. An expert FOI trainer will come to your newsroom or community and provide a two-hour presentation on great documents and strategies for requesting records. For more information, check out the SPJ newsroom training page.

Communal document pool

On your newsroom Intranet or computer system, create a place where reporters can post documents they have received that might be of help to other beats. Post the document and location, or the actual document or data. Create a running index of great documents in the community.

Organize a local FOI audit

Coordinate a FOI audit of agencies in your community or state. Have citizens or journalists request records and report how the agencies respond. For tips on conducting an audit see the SPJ FOI Audit Toolkit produced by Charles Davis.

Create portable open meeting cards

Create laminated cards for wallets or purses that provide the basics of open meeting laws and a statement for reporters to say when officials prepare to go into executive session for questionable reasons.

Spread records request forms

Create a template for records request forms and make available to all reporters. Encourage them to use them weekly or daily. To find two online templates, check out the neutral letter online generator by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press or the more aggressive letter by the Student Press Law Center. Or, create your own template that suits your organization’s attorney.

Get your newsroom connected

Designate someone to keep up on FOI news and then spread it around the newsroom via e-mail. Subscribe to FOI listservs, including the FOI-L listserv and the FOI Advocate e-mail newsletter.

Document-driven story ideas

Find great ideas for document-driven stories and share them with your co-workers by checking out the following Web sites:
SPJ Open Doors publication guide to access, including an A to Z list of useful records for stories.
SPJ News Gems blog has a lot of stories that are based on documents.
The FOIA Files. Hundreds of document-driven stories are provided online at The Sunshine in Government Initiative Web site.
— Investigative Reporters and Editors has an Extra!Extra! Web site posting great stories often based on documents.
Society of Environmental Journalists provides a story archive of great stories, often based on records.
Center for Investigative Reporting provides a story blog of good ideas and investigative stories.
— Joe Adams, a Florida journalist and SPJ FOI Committee member, provides great record ideas at his iDig Answers Web site, under the title “Hit records.”
— Google News Alerts allow you to have Google search the Web for news and Web sites based on keywords you specify (such as freedom of information or public records). Go to, click on “News Alerts” then set up an alert with keywords you choose.

Click here to contact the Project Sunshine Chair in your state.

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