If your state’s open meetings and public records laws are anything like the laws in Maryland, there’s probably a lot of gray area that provides wiggle room for agencies and government bodies looking to delay or outright deny public access. It doesn’t have to be that way.
The Internet allows reporters to get specialized information on just about any topic with a few simple mouse clicks. But if your Internet searches don’t go beyond typing a few keywords into Google or visiting a select group of previously bookmarked pages, you, and your readers, are probably missing out.
As an industry, we do an excellent job beating back ungrounded denials to access or officials hoping that if they charge $2,000 for a $4.99 copy of a database we’ll just go away. But as good as we are in living up to our role as public watchdogs, we are equally bad at telling our readers and viewers why access laws — and the battles we wage on their behalf — are important.
Coalitions made up of media organizations, attorneys, special interest groups and average citizens have found success in improving open government and open records issues across the nation. Key to the success of these organizations have been dedicated cores of individuals committed to making them work, a broad base of support that spans beyond the media and a well-defined mission that can bring groups with various agendas together for a single cause.