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Monday, February 6, 2012
FOI Toolbox

Hone FOI skills on the cheap

By David Cuillier

If one of your New Year's resolutions was to become a better journalist, then what better way than to take advantage of free training in accessing public records? Here are five ways to hone your FOI skills this year on the cheap:

1. ACCESS ACROSS AMERICA PART II

In summer 2010, I drove 14,000 miles around the nation conducting FOI training for 1,009 people at 56 stops, courtesy of SPJs Sigma Delta Chi Foundation and the National Freedom of Information Coalition. Were doing it again this summer, but this time weve broken it into five regions with a squadron of FOI fighters (Charles Davis, Southeast; Michael Morrissey, Northeast; Joey Senat, Midwest; Ian Marquand, Northwest; and myself in the Southwest). Contact me (cuillier@email.arizona.edu) if you want your chapter or newsroom to be included in the tours, involving a two-hour information-packed session with ample handouts and tips. Well try to accommodate all we can afford.

2. SPJ NEWSROOM TRAINING

If you cant get in on the access tour, you can still request in-house newsroom training provided by SPJ on a variety of topics, including multimedia, ethics and FOI. We conduct a two-hour session on FOI, honed over the past seven years. Organizations are asked to chip in some money to help defray expenses, but most of it is covered by the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation. For more information, see the SPJ site.

3. SPJ VIDEOS ON DEMAND

Check out the SPJ e-campus FOI videos on demand, for members only. The five modules, each about 10 minutes, cover 10 must-have documents, learning FOI law, effective requests, overcoming denials and dealing with data. These videos could be shown in class, in a newsroom brownbag session or at a chapter meeting, perhaps for Sunshine Week in mid-March.

4. FOI RESOURCE WEBSITES

The SPJ FOI page provides educational resources for FOI, including understanding FERPA, training for college journalists and previous FOI Toolbox columns. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press website has tons of guides, such as on understanding your state public records and open meeting laws, federal FOIA, medical privacy law, access to police records and access to electronic records. The Student Press Law Center has great resources for college records, and Charles Davis posts tips at our Art of Access blog, which accompanies our book by the same name.

5. PEOPLE SOURCES

Put on brown-bag lunches or chapter programs with FOI guest speakers. They might include the resident records guru on staff, a media law attorney, a private investigator, public record custodians from local agencies, a federal depository librarian or genealogists. Share the knowledge and become an FOI warrior!

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Current Issue
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Quill
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Open Doors
Geneva Conventions
Annual FOI Reports

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