Not even George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth could have acted so quickly and thoroughly. With considerable ease, information vanished without warning from federal government Web sites in the wake of last September’s terrorist attacks. The malleable, somewhat dubious nature of the Internet made it simple for agencies to remove technical drawings, security evaluations, risk management plans, impact assessments and other public documents from sites with a few key strokes, leaving hardly a sign the information had ever been there.
Press associations and freedom of information advocates were ready to fight as the 2002 state legislative sessions started this spring. In that panicky post-Sept. 11 environment, legislators were prepared to do almost anything to prove constituents would be protected in the event of a terrorist attack – including gutting open records and meetings laws.
Fourth of July weekend this year wasn’t just going to be about fireworks and hot dogs for New Jersey Assemblyman George F. Geist. The bill Geist co-sponsored, the law that access advocates and the local press association had spent years prodding through the legislature, finally would be effective Monday, July 8.
For years, advocates petitioned the California legislature to pass loophole-closing open government legislation, only to have plans die in committee or by the governor’s veto. Further frustrated by court decisions that chipped away at access laws, this year the California First Amendment Foundation (CFAF) and the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA) wanted voters to make the call.
When Vanessa Curry came to teach journalism at the University of Texas at Tyler, part of her assignment was to improve the student newspaper, The Patriot. The unread papers that filled The Patriot’s racks said it all; students didn’t read the paper, which Curry said was filled mostly with opinion pieces.