A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists


FOI Toolbox


February 17th, 2016 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

When Illinois journalist Susan Sarkauskas was denied access to a meeting of the Waubonsee Community College Board of Trustees last year, she could have filed a lawsuit alleging the board had violated the state’s Open Meetings Act. Instead, Sarkauskas simply wrote to the Illinois attorney general.


December 15th, 2015 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

For better or worse, Edward Snowden, WikiLeaks and the Sony hacking scandal have made headlines around the world by taking information in violation of the law and sharing it with the press. Importantly, journalists who reported on the information disclosed in those leaks have been shielded from extraordinary legal risk — and that is probably no accident.


October 22nd, 2015 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

Regardless of whether you live in or near a border town, immigration issues are moving to the forefront of people’s minds. And for good reason: Immigrants are coming to the United States at higher rates today than they were during the 1900s.


August 17th, 2015 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

State open government laws and the federal Freedom of Information Act won’t help journalists seeking information directly from Native American tribal governments. As sovereign nations, the 566 federally recognized tribes operate apart from those statutes. Only because Maine’s unique statutory framework treats tribes as municipal governments does that state’s open records law apply when tribes communicate in their municipal capacities with other governments.


April 3rd, 2015 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

A county council in Maryland made an announcement in October that grabbed my attention: It was launching a new digital tool to track and share the results of state public information requests. My first reaction: Pretty cool; it’s about time; more organizations should do this.


February 3rd, 2015 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

Accessing information is challenging enough, but keeping the information safe, as well as ourselves, is becoming increasingly difficult. Most journalists don’t work in war zones, and most won’t be gunned down in their offices by terrorists, as we witnessed in the horrific massacre of Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris.


December 9th, 2014 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

As more Title IX cases sprout up across the country, bringing to life a series of sexual discrimination issues on college campuses, journalists are reminded how crucial it is to have an arsenal of context waiting for when that big story drops.


October 22nd, 2014 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

When a public agency denies you a public record, don’t get mad; get busy. And get help. Organizations like SPJ can help you get information the public needs to adequately self-govern: SUNSHINE NETWORK SPJ’s Sunshine Network provides resources and experts for every state.


June 20th, 2014 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

According to at least one study, Facebook is dying. Princeton researchers John Cannarella and Joshua Spechler claim that Facebook will lose 80 percent of its users in the next three years. So what? At the least, it’s an indication that the tools we use to communicate within our society are constantly evolving and, in this digital age, at a dizzying rate.


April 9th, 2014 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

At this writing, state court systems in 24 states have Twitter accounts, 11 are on YouTube, and eight are on Facebook, according to the National Center for State Courts. But while courts may be jumping on the social media bandwagon to get information out to the public, they’re not uniformly keen on allowing the use of social media inside courtrooms.


February 12th, 2014 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

The Florida legislature passed a bill last year that requires training for constitutional officers. That would include people like the governor, sheriffs, county commissioners and school superintendents. It’s a four-hour training requirement and has to address the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees and the state Sunshine Laws.


December 20th, 2013 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

Much has been written about the proposed federal shield law, the Free Flow of Information Act, by our president Dave Cuillier, by Lynn Walsh in the last issue of Quill, and by others. It’s not a perfect bill. An amendment by Sen.


October 16th, 2013 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

Are you a journalist? Are you regularly “gathering,” “collecting” or “preparing” information about “matters of public interest”? You may think the answers to these questions are easy or should automatically be yes. But what if you had to prove that you were a “journalist” to be protected by the proposed federal shield law?


September 5th, 2013 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

Every reporter knows it’s both who you know and what you know that makes a good story. It’s no different in the freedom of information world when you’re trying to get access to public records, change legislation or just get into a meeting you’re pretty sure you should have access to.


June 6th, 2013 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

A female student complained to Oklahoma State University police in January that her ex-boyfriend had secretly videotaped them having sex in an on-campus apartment that the student newspaper identified as a football player’s residence. OSU officials redacted the ex-boyfriend’s name and other identifying information from the incident report released to the news media.


April 10th, 2013 • Quill Archives, FOI Toolbox
FOI Toolbox

Check out five federal databases that you can download for free, pull into Microsoft Excel, and analyze to identify trends and problems in your community. Start with these easily obtainable databases and then use your FOI skills to request more public data specific to your beat.