Freedom of Information
During Sunshine Week four years ago, I had the opportunity to thank California state Sen. Nancy Skinner for her work at an SPJ Northern California Pro Chapter awards ceremony. Skinner had just authored California’s most consequential government transparency law in generations, Senate Bill 1421, which made police records relating to shootings and other serious incidents public.
(image credit: www.epictop10.com) Many a great story has come out of Freedom of Information Act findings. At the same time, many a story doesn’t get written because the requested documents don’t arrive by deadline – if at all. And the two-year-old pandemic is worsening response times.
As protests erupt in the wake of police brutality, one key point for journalists to remember is that many police agencies have enforced silence on police officers. And that creates an historically fearful secrecy. In an SPJ-sponsored 2016 survey, 56% of police reporters said they can rarely or never interview a police officer without involving a department’s public information officer.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — When Jessie Haynes first heard about a shooting at the Capital Gazette, across the street from the mall where she works, she assumed it was carried out by someone featured unfavorably in a news story. It didn’t cross her mind, as it did many journalists across the country, that the shooter might have been inspired to attack a newsroom by rhetoric coming from the U.S.
Hundreds of newspapers across the country united in solidarity today and published editorials on the importance on the First Amendment. The coordinated editorials are in response to a campaign by The Boston Globe that called on publications to condemn President Trump’s oft-repeated assertions that journalists are “the enemy of the people.”
Journalists have a long history of working with their sources to reveal essential public information and informing the citizenry. A free press is one of the cornerstones of American democracy, after all. But when government officials attack reporters or their sources and try to control the exposure of the truth, power is taken away from the citizens and that pillar of democracy crumbles.
As Yogi Berra would say, it’s déjà vu all over again. A legislature has rushed through a bill curtailing the state’s public records act, waiving rules to minimize public comment and present the governor with a bill that has enough votes to override any veto, and members of the public are as mad as hell.
Filed a federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, but ran into a few bumps? The Society of Professional Journalists wants to help.
Government Accountability Project released a guide for journalists detailing best practices for working with whistleblowers.