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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.

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Danielle McLean
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ThinkProgress
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@DanielleBMcLean
Bio (click to expand) picture Danielle McLean is an investigative reporter at ThinkProgress and chair of SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee. Over the past five years, McLean has worked as an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News and has been published in the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the MetroWest Daily News, the Milford Daily News, and dozens of weekly Massachusetts publications. She was ranked no. 13 in Scout Somerville magazine’s list of the top 40 local leaders in the City of Somerville, Massachusetts for her reporting at the Somerville Journal newspaper and has won the New England Newspaper and Press Association’s government, transportation, business and economic, and courts and crime reporting awards. McLean previously served as president of SPJ’s New England chapter, pushing for public records reform and a free press. Under her watch, the chapter won SPJ’s 2014-15 Circle of Excellence award for Freedom of Information.

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

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Your right to know  •  March 11-17, 2018

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 and the Government Accountability Project have teamed up with several other whistleblowing and media organizations to inform journalists on how they can safely work with whistleblowers, and have created a comprehensive case for why those brave workers who risk everything should be praised and better protected.



Sunshine Week

New for 2018: SW18 Reporting package
Sunshine Week Toolkit
Sunshine Week website
Chapter FOI program ideas
Campus FOI resources
FOI activities for newsrooms
Writing about FOI
Curriculum and classroom ideas for teachers
FOI resources


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. To learn more, 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.

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 http://news.google.com, click on “News Alerts” then set up an alert with keywords you choose.


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


Project Sunshine
Information
A Winning Strategy


Freedom of Information
FOIA Home
News/Articles
Find FOI in your state
FOI step-by-step guides

Quill: Stories About FOI
– Why the #FreePress editorials were not enough
– Meet the victims of violence against journalists
– World Press Freedom Day hits home

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.

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