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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

Jonathan Anderson
Public issues investigative reporter
Marshfield News-Herald
Marshfield, Wisc.
Phone: 920-676-5399
Bio (click to expand) picture Jonathan Anderson is a public issues investigative reporter for the Marshfield News-Herald in Marshfield, Wisconsin. Before joining the News-Herald, in 2015, Jonathan was a reporter for a pair of newspapers in northern Wisconsin for nearly two years. He has held internships at the First Amendment Center, Wisconsin Law Journal, Wisconsin Public Radio and WISN-TV, and was also editor in chief of his college newspaper, the UWM Post.

Jonathan is an avid requester of public records, and his work in the FOI arena has also entailed advocacy and research. He has been the plaintiff in two lawsuits challenging improper government secrecy. He helped obtain a legal opinion from the Wisconsin attorney general that found University of Wisconsin System student government groups subject to the state’s open meetings law. His master’s thesis, “Resolving Public Records Disputes in Wisconsin: The Role of the Attorney General's Office,” investigated how the Wisconsin attorney general reviews and sometimes intervenes in access disputes. And he has volunteered for the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.

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

Sunshine Week website
Chapter FOI program ideas
Campus FOI resources
FOI activities for newsrooms
Writing about FOI
Quotable expert sources
Curriculum and classroom ideas for teachers
FOI resources
2014 resources: New studies and more
Sunshine Week Logos

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.

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 websites:

SPJ Open Doors publication guide to access, including an A to Z list of useful records for stories.
The FOIA Files. Hundreds of document-driven stories are provided online at The Sunshine in Government Initiative website.
— Investigative Reporters and Editors has an Extra!Extra! website 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.
— Google News Alerts allow you to have Google search the Web for news and websites 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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