A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

October 4th, 2011 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

Editor’s note: Portions of this column appeared in a previous Salt Lake Tribune column by the author. Every so often, the FOI Toolbox changes its focus from how journalists can obtain information to how SPJ, both through members and as an organization, can advocate better FOI policy at state and federal levels.

June 1st, 2011 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

Tuesday, March 1, 2011, is one of those dates that will live in infamy for Utah journalists and citizens. Late in the afternoon, lawmakers unveiled a 1,800-line bill that was intended to gut key provisions of Utah’s records law, the Government Records Access and Management Act (known as GRAMA).

December 2nd, 2010 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

Under certain sections of the IRS tax code, corporations involved in charitable, educational, artistic, religious and social services can qualify for tax-exempt status. In return for such status, the government requires most of these organizations to keep publicly available records for anyone to view.

December 2nd, 2009 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

Want to become a pro at investigating campaign finance? No, you don’t have to attend a special class or request large databases of government data. The story can start at your computer. The data of complex campaign contributions has been simplified by several groups.

March 3rd, 2009 • Quill Archives
Watch out for privacy creeps

Call it “privacy creep.” It’s an ever-growing list of public records that officials close in the name of privacy and identity theft. Because bad ideas spread, journalists and freedom of information advocates should review the following examples to make sure privacy creep isn’t already closing down records in their hometowns or states.

January 24th, 2008 • Quill Archives
Better reporting during the ’Mormon moment’

In the United States, we are living through what many have termed a “Mormon moment.” A Google search on “Mormon” yields thousands of hits of recent news stories, many of them surrounding the GOP candidacy of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

September 1st, 2007 • Quill Archives
Ten FOI stories you can start today

As part of SPJ’s national newsroom training program, trainers propose document-driven projects that are fairly easy to begin. Here are some story ideas and examples that you could begin using tomorrow: 1. Settlements Check on claims and out-of-court settlements at City Hall.

May 7th, 2007 • Quill Archives
FOI: Journalists should demand prison access

Will state corrections officials’ attempts to block media access to inmates never end? The latest is Maine Department of Corrections’ officials who proposed draconian media restrictions they said had long been on paper but never implemented. After an outcry from journalists, Maine’s governor said he wanted to review the policies, which included requiring reporters to sign an agreement allowing corrections officials to monitor and control interview content.

March 6th, 2007 • Quill Archives
8 simple rules to getting the documents you need

When facilitators take SPJ’s national newsroom training on the road, we suggest ways to create a “document-driven” newsroom. Stories based on documents are more thorough and carry much more credibility. Here are some steps reporters can take to make that happen on just about any beat.

December 1st, 2006 • Narrative Writing Toolbox
Government outsourcing leads to cloaked figures

Mitch Pearlman, the longtime head of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, once likened government privatization to the Klingon Empire’s “cloaking device,” which hides spacecraft in the sci-fi TV series “Star Trek.” To be sure, the Klingon fleet is growing, journalists and the public should be careful as government cloaks services and budgets in privatized deal-making.

March 1st, 2006 • Quill Archives
10 tips to help reporters with stealthy government

Getting past the secrecy of government meetings is an age-old challenge for journalists. While the nation’s founders did much of their work behind closed doors to craft our Constitution, modern government officials seem to, at least, give lip service to the notions of transparency and openness.

December 1st, 2005 • Quill Archives
States revisiting reporter’s privilege laws

The controversy surrounding the jailing of former New York Times reporter Judith Miller could prompt Congress to enact a federal shield law. It has also bolstered efforts to create reporter’s privilege through shield laws or policies in Massachusetts, Washington, Utah, Texas, Connecticut and Vermont.

August 1st, 2005 • Quill Archives
Sunshine Laws should be updated for an e-world

When a public official gets or sends an e-mail, is it more like a telephone conversation or a letter? Officials and journalists, armed with public records requests, are finding there are no easy answers. Even in the handful of states where laws are clear that e-mail is a public record, the process of getting copies of government e-mails can be tough.

May 2nd, 2005 • Quill Archives
Sunshine Week helps public meet everyday FOI heroes

So little time and so many great stories about Freedom of Information. That’s how I felt as I did a database search of hundreds of news articles and editorials that appeared during Sunshine Week, March 13-19. By any measure, the week was a success in terms of educating the public about open government and making government officials stand up and take notice.

March 8th, 2005 • Quill Archives
Lawmakers should let sun shine on quasi-public groups

A long list of quasi-public organizations that do the public’s business, including state municipal leagues, county associations, university foundations, economic development boards and state worker insurance funds are having a hard time with a new buzzword: transparency. For decades journalists have been calling it “sunshine” or Freedom of Information.

October 23rd, 2004 • Quill Archives
Curley pledges AP’s resources to help stem the tide of the public’s right to ’no!’

In May, Tom Curley, president and chief executive officer of the Associated Press, warned about forces of secrecy gaining strength from the war on terror and heightened privacy concerns. But in August, he admitted that he hedged on some of his remarks back then.

March 17th, 2004 • Quill Archives
Cyberspace discussions may violate open meetings laws

Using e-mail, instant messaging and voice mail has become second nature to most of us. So has it with many public officials and, without thinking, many may be violating state open meetings and records statutes when they begin conducting business in cyberspace.

December 9th, 2003 • Quill Archives
Time for access checkup on nation’s courts

Because of a presumed constitutional right of access to court proceedings, journalists usually have found access at courthouses a bit easier to come by than at city hall or the statehouse. That may all be changing. Recent trends toward secrecy show it’s time to do an access checkup on the nation’s courthouses.

November 11th, 2003 • Quill Archives
Temptation rocks Salt Lake newsroom

When the story of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart’s abduction became national news in June 2002, Connie Coyne knew the dangers. Coyne, the reader advocate for The Salt Lake Tribune, once worked in Florida, the home base for the National Enquirer. Soon after the Smart kidnapping, she said she warned the reporters covering the story – Kevin Cantera and Michael Vigh – about the tabloid’s penchant for coming to town with checkbook in hand to tempt reporters.

September 24th, 2003 • Quill Archives
Project aims to create state FOI law maps

Just imagine that a state legislator has introduced a bill that would make most e-mail received by public officials off limits to the public in your state. If you are the local SPJ chapter’s sunshine chair, you need answers – and you need them fast – to start rallying local FOI advocates against the bill.