5 open records horror stories from The Associated Press

The Associated Press

In advance of Sunshine Week, The Associated Press compiled a state-by-state open-records update that includes several transparency nightmares, including a Florida sheriff’s office that wanted $399,000 to search for agency emails containing gay slurs and a state Department of Motor Vehicles that demanded $19,950 for a specialized public records search.

Here are five cases that stand out:

California: The state DMV asked for nearly $20,000 to fulfill an open-records request from The Associated Press seeking to determine “whether poor people had their driver’s licenses suspended at a disproportionate rate.”

The justification for the pricetag? The DMV claimed the request would require 120 hours of special programming at $135 per hour:

The AP sought a meeting with the DMV’s public information and technology staff, but the agency never responded.

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Rape and anonymity: a fateful pairing

This column has been republished with permission from the author. To see the original post and more from her blog, go to


The Rolling Stone’s indefensible University of Virginia gang-rape story felt like a punch in the gut to anyone feeling hopeful about progress against sexual assault. But hopeful I remain. This fight is (finally) too vigorous to be stopped by flawed journalism.

News and social-media coverage over recent weeks, from the serial rape allegations against Bill Cosby to reports of sexual assault in the military and on campuses across the nation, would indicate that rape is at last being recognized — as an unacceptable reality that we have accepted for far too long. A lot of people seem to have decided no longer to acquiesce in the notion that rape and silence go hand in hand. Read more

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Is the Obama administration really the ‘most transparent’ ever?

In a live “Hangout” video chat on Google+ last week, President Obama answered a critic’s question about his administration’s secrecy over drone killings and Benghazi with this claim:

This is the most transparent administration in history, and I can document how that is the case — everything from every visitor who comes into the White House is now part of the public record. That is something we changed. Every law that we pass, every rule that we implement we put online for everyone to see.

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Obama administration’s FOIA record worse than Bush’s

Bloomberg | The New York Times
Bloomberg News found that 19 of 20 federal agencies did not comply within 20 days to a request for travel expenses made under the Freedom of Information Act. Jim Snyder and Danielle Ivory report:

“When it comes to implementation of Obama’s wonderful transparency policy goals, especially FOIA policy in particular, there has been far more ‘talk the talk’ rather than ‘walk the walk,’ ” said Daniel Metcalfe, director of the Department of Justice’s office monitoring the government’s compliance with FOIA requests from 1981 to 2007.

Analysis done by the Scripps Howard Foundation reveals that President Obama’s administration granted a smaller percentage of open records requests in its first two years in office than George W. Bush’s administration granted in its final three years. Read more

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New adds stream of user tips for crowd ranking

News as a public process, rather than the polished output of a magic journalism box, is one of the big ideas in journalism innovation. But what exactly does that look like?

The new homepage of has a stream of incoming tips and suggested stories.

The people at are taking a stab at answering that question in a redesign launching Thursday afternoon. The site’s main feature remains the same — a center column aggregating the world’s latest breaking news stories, as picked by editors. But a new column to the right has a raw feed of unverified story leads the audience can help to sort through.

This acts as a “real-time inbox of tips,” which come through the website from users or through Twitter from about 160 news organizations who signed up to submit tips by including #breaking or #breakingnews hashtags. Read more


New website builds dossiers on journalists, hopes transparency will lead to trust

Ira Stoll is 38. He has a Facebook page and a Twitter account. His phone number is (718) 499-2199 and his email is He went to college at Harvard, has worked at the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and New York Sun, and he considers Seth Lipsky a personal friend.

I know all this from Stoll’s profile page on, a new site he just launched to make it easier for the public “to find out about the individual human beings who produce the news — human beings with opinions, relationships, history, and agendas.”

The site consists of journalist profile pages which, like Wikipedia, allow anyone to add information and, like Amazon, enable ratings and reviews. They also collect articles written about the journalist’s work. Read more


Is it really a big deal if journalists share personal opinions?

News about “World of Opera” host Lisa Simeone becoming an Occupy Wall Street spokesperson has renewed attention to questions that journalists have grappled with for years. Should journalists’ personal lives have any bearing on their work as journalists? And if you’re a journalist, should you give up certain rights?

It used to be that journalists wouldn’t post political signs in their front lawns. In an age where people are so accessible online, is it OK for journalists to post personal information and opinions? If they “like” one politician on Facebook, should they like them all?

These are important questions to ask, especially given that it’s gotten easier for the public to catch a glimpse of journalists’ work and lives. Some have said that “transparency is the new objectivity.” The challenge, of course, is figuring out just how transparent you want to be and how your audience will respond. Read more

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Guardian publishes upcoming story budgets, invites reader feedback
The Guardian will publish “a carefully-selected portion” of its internal lists of upcoming story topics, inviting readers to get in touch with reporters or editors if they have something to contribute. The goal is to treat news as an open, interactive process, instead of a finished product concealed until completion. National News Editor Dan Roberts explains:

“What if readers were able to help newsdesks work out which stories were worth investing precious reporting resources in? What if all those experts who delight in telling us what’s wrong with our stories after they’ve been published could be enlisted into giving us more clues beforehand? What if the process of working out what to investigate actually becomes part of the news itself?”

“Obviously, we’re not planning to list all our exclusives or embargoed content and we’ll also have to be careful not to say anything legally sensitive or unsubstantiated.

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The Atlantic Wire opens editorial discussions to the public
The Atlantic Wire is experimenting with letting the public observe and participate in its story pitching and editing processes by conducting them in an open comment thread. “As with many web news operations, The Atlantic Wire is mostly edited via terse messages in a group chat room… We had a thought: Why not move that out into the open and let anyone who wants to take part?” editor Gabriel Snyder wrote. The “Open Wire” experiment is designed to increase transparency about the editorial process. || UPDATE: Snyder published a piece about what he’s learned from this experiment. Read more