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.
– SPJ President: J. Alex Tarquinio: Sunshine Week begins early this year
– SPJ calls on Congress to pass strong Federal Shield Law
– New for 2019: SW19 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 publics 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.
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.
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 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.