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Home > Publications > SPJ Leads > Who turned out the lights?

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SPJ Leads | 3/14/2018
Who turned out the lights?

By Anna Gutierrez, SPJ Communications Department


"Free press is essential in terms of telling the truth and allowing people to know exactly what's happening. It's essential that everybody have a voice and that everybody is represented. That's the job of news. We're here to help democracy." -- SPJ FOI Committee Chair Danielle McLean


The Society of Professional Journalists and the Government Accountability Project launched The Whistleblower Project on Monday. The project explores different aspects of whistleblowing, shares stories of whistleblowers and examines what actions need to be taken in order to protect whistleblowers' rights with proper laws and resources.

The United States set a new record for censoring and witholding government files: The government censored, withheld or said it couldn't find 78 percent of 823,222 requested records -- more than at any point in the last decade.

The Department of Justice launched its new redesign of FOIA.gov and the first iteration of the National Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Portal, a government-wide FOIA request portal that allows the public to submit a FOIA request to any agency from a single place. Learn more about it and what's new on the website here.


Have you ever wondered how many FOIA requests have been filed, completed or rejected in the United States? What about how many are awaiting acknowledgement, awaiting response, require action or are overdue?

Here are some highlights from the State of FOIA 2018:

—Only 26.41 percent of requests are successful (meaning they get a response and result in new information being released to the public)
—The average response time is 170 days, even though the required response time is 20 days
—2.21 percent of requests have a fee, but the average fee is $5.2 million
—More than 10 percent of requests are rejected

Read  the full report from MuckRock here.


At 7 p.m. EDT today, SPJ FOI Committee Chair Danielle McLean will give a presentation on "The Whistleblower Project" during the "Truth Be Told: Whistleblowers, Journalism & Democracy" event in Washington, D.C. If you can't make the event, register here to watch the livestream.

From 11 a.m. to noon EDT Thursday, GAP will present " Working with Whistleblowers: A Sunshine Week Training for Public Interest Advocates." The training will focus on working safely and effectively with whistleblowers and the information they disclose. The event will be livestreamed and recorded. Those who RSVP will receive an email link to watch the livestream.

From noon to 1 p.m. EDT Thursday, join SPJ for a Twitter chat about FOI, government transparency and whistleblowers! We're chatting with Think Progress Investigative Reporter/SPJ FOI Committee Chair Danielle McLean, IndyStar Investigative Reporter Tim Evans, Houston Chronicle Data Journalist John Harden and Lynn Walsh of the Trusting News Project.


The work journalists do often has an impact, whether it's in a local community or on a broader, national scale. In this study by Elia Powers, journalists considered impact as central to their mission and had no qualms about discussing impact with colleagues, but some were hesitant to discuss it outside the newsroom (Digital Journalism).

Learn more about why journalists are apprehensive about mentioning a story's impact to audiences, how journalists view their mission and different ways the definition of "measurable journalism" is explored.

Journal Star Reporter Matt Buedel joins his colleague Nick Vlahos to discuss the Freedom of Information Act, how it's implemented and how essential it is to investigative reporting. Buedel recently used a massive amount of data from a FOIA request to investigate complaints against the police chief in Peoria, Illinois, that may have contributed to the chief's abrupt resignation. Listen to the full podcast here.


The winners and finalists of this year's Mark of Excellence Awards contest from Region 4 were announced and honored at the Region 4 Conference March 10 in Pittsburgh. First-place winners from the regional contest will compete at the national level among other regional MOE winners from the 12 SPJ regions. National winners will be notified in the late spring and will be recognized at the  Excellence in Journalism conference in Baltimore.

Use the weekend to finalize your nominations for SPJ national honors, closing on March 19! Recognize an outstanding journalism educator with the Distinguished Teaching in Journalism Award and celebrate a place of national historic journalism interest through the Historic Sites in Journalism program.

While you're at it, honor a journalist whose work exemplifies the SPJ Code of Ethics, or a colleague making important contributions in the area of open government for the Ethics in Journalism Award or the Sunshine Award. Questions? Contact Program Coordinator Christine Cordial.

The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, in association with the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) and SPJ, is offering a $10,000 cash prize for the Nina Mason Pulliam Award for Outstanding Environmental Reporting. Recognizing the "best of the best" of environmental reporting, the winning entry will be chosen from among the first-place winners from each of the seven categories in SEJ's annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment contest. The deadline to submit is April 2. More information about the SEJ awards contest and the Nina Mason Pulliam Award can be found here.


Charlottesville Tomorrow, a nonprofit news organization in Charlottesville, Virginia, is seeking a dynamic leader to become its next executive director. Learn more here.

The Cincinnati Enquirer is hiring an investigative data and research reporter to obtain and analyze data that sheds light on how well government agencies, nonprofits and other significant organizations operate in their efforts to serve the public. Apply here.

SPJ Leads
– SDX Foundation changes its name
– Sign up for a Regional Conference near you
– Sign up for SPJ's Regional Conferences

Press Notes
– Breast Cancer Awareness: Learning From Jackie Collins' Death
– Blog: CPJ joins call to oppose draft surveillance law in France
– Baboon raid temporarily forced Zimbabwe radio station off air

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