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.
SPJ's Black Hole Award: The Society of Professional Journalists launched the Black Hole Award this year 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. The Freedom of Information Committee accepted nominations for 2010 violations, coordinated by committee member Mike Farrell of the University of Kentucky, and selected the winner along with five runners-up. This award will be handed out annually during national Sunshine Week. Click here to read about this year's winner and the five runners-up.
Reporters 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. Its 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 dont 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 organizations 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 http://news.google.com, click on News Alerts then set up an alert with keywords you choose.