FOIA

What’s your weirdest FOIA experience?

This 2007 photo shows documents from a Freedom of Information Law request to the Finger Lakes village of Penn Yan, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)

This 2007 photo shows documents from a Freedom of Information Law request to the Finger Lakes village of Penn Yan, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)

For the end of Sunshine Week, I emailed a handful of reporters and asked them a few questions about their experiences with Freedom of Information requests. Most remembered the first request they made, most had one or two really odd experiences, including basically having a baby sitter assigned to watch while looking through records, and they all had great advice on getting the information they ask for.

Melissa Segura with BuzzFeed News remembered her first FOIA request pretty clearly and how nervous she felt at the time.

“I was an intern at the sports department at The New Mexican in Santa Fe and I needed information about coaching salaries for the public high school teams,” she wrote. Read more

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AP considering legal action over Clinton emails

The Associated Press | The New York Times

The Associated Press is considering legal action against the State Department “for failing to turn over some emails covering Clinton’s tenure,” Jack Gillum and Ted Bridis wrote for The Associated Press Wednesday.

The threat comes amid allegations that Clinton used a private email account linked to a server in her New York home to duck public records requests from news organizations including Gawker and The AP.

The private email account and associated personal server would have given Clinton additional legal latitude if she was asked to turn over her correspondence, according to The AP Paralegal Job Description :

Operating her own server would have afforded Clinton additional legal opportunities to block government or private subpoenas in criminal, administrative or civil cases because her lawyers could object in court before being forced to turn over any emails.

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Jack White disses student newspaper over open records request

White. (AP)

White. (AP)

The Oklahoma Daily

Thanks to controversy surrounding a student newspaper’s open records request, the public now knows that Jack White is currently on a “no banana” tour, that he prefers his guacamole “chunky” and that he doesn’t think much of journalism degrees.

Those details were revealed after the University of Oklahoma’s OU Daily got curious about White’s sold-out performance at the university’s McCasland Field House. Staffers wanted to see how much the University was paying White to perform (upwards of $80,000, it turns out), so they filed an open records request for the contract.

The paper received the document and published it on its website. Among the most interesting tidbits:

  • White isn’t into bananas right now: “We don’t want to see bananas anywhere in the building.”
  • The band is really specific about their guac demands.
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Buy the journalist in your life a drone. Or a selfie stick

Good morning. Thanks for hanging in there with me this week. We’re taking a newsletter break for the holidays but will return on Monday, Jan. 5, brimming with news and probably an extra five pounds from all that day drinking. In the meantime, Poynter has a lot of great stories lined up for your holiday reading pleasure. For now, here are 10 media stories.

  1. What to buy your journalist friends, because they’re probably not getting a bonus this year

    How about an "Is it plagiarism?" pillow? Or a cassette recorder for when digital devices fail us? (Poynter) | A bandolier for your iPhone? A picture-taking aerial robot that's not really a drone? (Mashable) | Buzz Bissinger's Gucci schwag? (New York) | Grammar dessert plates?

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Ohio legislature rushes to shield lethal-drug info from public records law

The Columbus Dispatch | RCFP

The Ohio General Assembly is moving quickly to pass a bill that would “shield the identity of manufacturers and sellers of drugs used in lethal injection, as well as physicians and members of the execution team who participate in the process,” Alan Johnson reports for The Columbus Dispatch.

Several other states have secrecy statutes regarding the source of lethal injection drugs, Michael Rooney reported this spring for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The laws sprang up after the European Union banned the export of drugs that could be used in capital punishment. States have had to turn to “compounding pharmacies” to get drugs, Rooney writes, and fear that “death penalty opponents might pressure those pharmacies to stop producing and supplying the drugs used for execution.”

Prisoners, too, have requested information on the drugs to be used on them. Read more

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Ferguson gouges journalists on public records requests

Associated Press

The city of Ferguson, Missouri, demands high fees to retrieve documents in the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting last month. “Organizations like the website Buzzfeed were told they’d have to pay unspecified thousands of dollars for emails and memos about Ferguson’s traffic-citation policies and changes to local elections,” Jack Gillum reports. “The Washington Post said Ferguson wanted no less than $200 for its requests.”

Related: 4 types of FOIAs and how to use them for your reporting | FOIA lessons from Gawker Editor John Cook

Gillum says the city “wanted nearly $2,000 to pay a consulting firm for up to 16 hours of work to retrieve messages on its own email system” when AP “asked for copies of several police officials’ emails and text messages.” Technicians might have to look at tape backups, the consulting firm told Gillum. Read more

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Editor fired for Reddit shenanigans, BuzzFeed editors don’t shout

mediawiremorningGood morning. Here are 10 media stories for the day before your long weekend. And from Sam Kirkland, your daily digital stories.

  1. Editor fired for gaming Reddit: Rod “Slasher” Breslau was fired from CBS Interactive’s esports site OnGamers after he was “caught asking other users to post his stories to Reddit with specific headlines,” Patrick Howell O’Neill reports. Reddit has banned OnGamers as a result, resulting in a loss of half its traffic. (The Daily Dot) || Related: How to get your news site banned from Reddit (Poynter)
  2. These media companies drug-test their employees: The Washington Post, The New York Times and McClatchy all want you to fill a cup. (Gawker)
  3. Voice of America journalists don’t want to be mouthpieces: Their union endorsed a change to the organization’s charter that would require VOA to “actively support American policy,” Ron Nixon reports.
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Morning media roundup: Anonymous sources, FOIA ‘terrorism,’ Chelsea Clinton’s salary

Twice in the last two weeks, New York Times reporters got burned by anonymous sources, Jack Shafer writes. The Times and The Washington Post “tend to rely more heavily on” anonymous sources “than other print outlets” — “In the past four days, the Post cited unnamed sources in at least 18 pieces and the Times did the same in 17 stories ranging from the Iraq civil war to a smartphone app that predicts what a user will type next.”

• “I have nothing against anonymous sources who help guide reporters toward the verifiable — I just draw the line at routinely printing what they say,” Shafer writes.

10 MEDIA STORIES

  1. Jason Leopold was a sloppy journalist who realized that FOIA scoops meant “no one sharing it had to worry about whether they could trust the person who had unearthed the documents; they only had to trust the documents themselves.” Jason Fagone writes a fascinating profile of a self-described “FOIA terrorist.” (Matter)
  2. Former employees at the Salt Lake Tribune have filed suit to suspend changes to the newspaper’s joint operating agreement with the Deseret News.
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rosenthal-v-small

King County pays Seattle Times more than $40,000 for public records violations

More than 1,900 pages of e-mails and documents help tell a story about what’s happened to people with mental health issues in King County in Washington, and what the county’s doing about it — not bad for a collection of documents the county couldn’t seem to find.

Rosenthal

Reporter Brian M. Rosenthal first requested those emails last fall after he wrote a Seattle Times series about psychiatric “boarding”, which left people who were involuntarily committed and in need of psychiatric treatment in the emergency room for hours or even days. Many readers wrote him emails about the story afterward.

One “was from a staff person at a hospital that said, nice story, here’s something else you ought to be looking into,” Rosenthal said in a phone interview with Poynter. Read more

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Kent State journalism faculty ‘embarrassed’ by university’s secretive presidential search

Akron Beacon Journal | The Daily Kent Stater | When Journalism Fails

Faculty members from Kent State University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication took out an ad in student paper The Daily Kent Stater Tuesday to protest the university’s search for a new president. Officials destroyed documentation of the search, saying it had “turned over all records that are relevant,” Carol Biliczky reported in the Akron Beacon Journal earlier this month.

“We’re embarrassed by our administration’s refusal to disclose public records related to the recent presidential search,” the ad reads. “And we’re troubled over credible news reports that some of these records may have been shredded to avoid public inspection.” Read more

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