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Your right to know  •  March 10-16, 2024

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.

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. Find an online templates, such as this template from 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.
— 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.

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