The word autopsy is derived from Greek and means “to see for oneself.” Autopsy reports that are part of the public record help journalists do just that, enabling them to report on crime, high-profile deaths and public health issues. Such reports have revealed public safety threats, uncovered murders committed by law enforcement officials and exposed fatal child abuse.
From elementary schools to universities, some administrators are gleefully jumping on the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, known as FERPA, as an excuse to keep secret just about anything anyone wants to know about their schools. Don’t put up with it.
Accessing public records should be easy: ask and then get. Unfortunately, many officials illegally deny valid records requests and you don’t have the time or money to sue. I asked William Ury, co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation and co-author of “Getting to Yes,” if we can apply his principles to the process of records requests and he said, well, “yes.”
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.
What good is access to government records if it costs as much as a bank buyout to get copies? Too often public agencies charge more than they should for copies of records, sometimes as much as $1 or more per page.
Government records can yield some awesome features for your community and news-you-can-use data for your Web site that people will love. Here are 11 of my favorites: [b]1. INVENTORS Look at U.S. patent records to find wacky inventions in your area.
When submitting a public records request letter, either through your state public records law or the federal Freedom of Information Act, it pays to think tone. How you write your letter can affect whether a public official responds, regardless of the law.