A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Lessons from the GRAMA Fight

By Quill

Over a year after the fight to save Utah’s open records law from a legislative attempt to gut it, what did people involved in the case learn?


Set up working group, proposed S.B. 177

The synergy between social media and mobile news gathering is powerful. The next time you’re out on a story, take a picture of what’s happening and post it to Facebook, use your phone to update your Twitter followers on an ongoing story, or maximize down time at a news event to respond to comments or re-tweet a follower. Smartphones make it easier to ramp up audience interaction on social media.


SPJ national Freedom of Information Committee chairwoman; editor of Valley Journals in Utah; represented Utah Foundation for Open Government on the working group

“The defeat of H.B. 477 showed the power of social media,” Petersen said. “Everybody mobilized that knew about it.”


Media law attorney; counsel for Utah Media Coalition

“The takeaway is that our state sunshine laws are not special interest media laws. It’s not about the news media, it’s about the public’s right of access,” Hunt said.

He said the press plays a “critically important constitutional role” in acting on the public’s behalf, but the events surrounding H.B. 477 showed the public cares about the state’s sunshine laws. “It was an avalanche of public opposition to the bill,” Hunt said. “These are public access statutes, and when the legislators forget that, they do so at their own peril; and they learned that with H.B. 477.”


Voted against H.B. 477

• King cautions legislators to pause before doing anything to disclosure laws. Although conventional media is the first group you think of, ordinary citizens got involved in records legislation as well. He was impressed by the activism and level of involvement of the public.

He extolled the virtues of civil discourse, saying the points of agreement are more prevalent than the points of disagreement.

“When problems exist between the legislature and media, I think we’re much better served — both camps are much better served — by sitting down and figuring out an amicable solution,” King said.

• He said he saw both sides — media and government — willing to see the other side’s needs. Government officials began to see the need for greater disclosure and media saw the need for some privacy restrictions.


Ogden City manager

• “GRAMA law reliance is a failed system,” Johnson said. He encourages journalists to develop relationships with government entities and government entities to develop relationships with journalists as an alternative to relying solely on open records recourse.

• “Journalists need to be fair,” Johnson said. “If you continually beat on a city, they’re going to control the documents.” He encouraged journalists to publish the good news along with other news. A mutually cooperative feeling goes a long way, he said.

• Johnson favored public access to information but thought the public was unaware of the costs associated with 100 percent disclosure. “I don’t know that GRAMA in its current form serves the citizens as much as they think it does,” he said. “Transparency is not cheap. That incremental extra is very expensive.”