Chapters and newsrooms are doing great work in freedom of information, so the FOI Committee decided to share some of its programs with everyone.
At the SPJ Web site, you’ll find dozens of ideas for FOI programs suitable for professional chapters, campus chapters or newsrooms. You’ll also find tips for writing about FOI, quotable expert FOI sources and studies, and FOI teaching ideas. Here is a snapshot of 10 program ideas:
1. Develop a catchy poster or T-shirt
Create a clever FOI phrase, poster or T-shirt. Distribute them through schools or publications, and sell them to journalists or at conferences for chapter funds. For example, Tom Henderson from the Snake River pro chapter produced a popular poster and T-shirt stating “Secrecy scares me more than terrorism: Do you feel safer in the dark?” with good art that sold throughout the country.
2. Organize a local FOI audit
Coordinate an 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, at www.spj.org/foitoolkit.asp. For a list of dozens of audits, see www.nfoic.org/foi-center/audits.
3. Profile citizen access heroes
Find people who have used access laws to help their communities, such as neighborhood activists. Locate the “Erin Brockovichs” in your area and show how government transparency makes life better. Allow citizens to chime in on a blog to provide their successes and frustrations with accessing information.
4. Coordinate FOI coffee shop or pub gathering
Invite a guest speaker who uses FOI a lot (an investigative reporter, private investigator, government librarian, genealogist, etc.) to a coffee shop or pub to talk about how he or she uses FOI. Lead a discussion and share tips and problems.
5. Create interactive online features
Find a computer pro to develop online interactive FOI features, such as Flash games. These are still relatively rare, so they can have a lot of impact. Make sure to forward the links to FOI groups so they can link to them. Great fun!
6. Translate FOI materials
Find people who can translate your state’s FOI materials into Spanish and other languages to benefit those who are not fluent in English and therefore disenfranchised and the most vulnerable. Spread the information to groups that help people who grapple with English as a second language. Empower them.
7. Use free FOI PowerPoint presentations
SPJ has posted online (www.spj.org/foiddnr.asp) for your use FOI PowerPoint presentations used in newsroom training sessions for the past few years. Download one and tweak it to suit your needs and specific state, then run through it with your chapter or newsroom with soda and cookies.
8. 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. Hand out to local media.
9. Tour a local government depository library
Get together your chapter for a tour of the local government depository library. There are more than 1,200 depositories in the country, usually at large public universities (find one at catalog.gpo.gov/fdlpdir). Also try out the library computers to see whether they have access to Lexis-Nexis and other online records services that your organization may not subscribe to. After your tour, go out for refreshments and brainstorm how you might apply the information to reporting.
10. Run with it!
Here’s a great idea from the University of Florida student chapter and Gainesville professional chapter: Recruit members to enter a local 5k race. Everyone run or walk together as a group and wear T-shirts that say, “I’m running for ACCESS.” Include your chapter’s Web site on the back of your shirt so crowds can see it as you run by.