January 25, 2017

A few days before President Trump’s inauguration, MuckRock opened up a Slack channel to help journalists better cover him and his administration.

As of Wednesday, 250 people signed up. Most are journalists, about half from national newsrooms and half from local newsrooms around the country. Update: As of Monday, 3,000 people have signed up.

“Anytime we have a new administration, there’s turnover and there are changes,” said Michael Morisy, MuckRock’s co-founder. “I always think it’s important for reporters to get an understating of what that new administration’s priorities are. I think that’s true no matter who’s taking office.”

The open-government nonprofit first launched the channel with a small group of people about a week after Trump won the election. The channel works to help build requests, workshop ideas, ask questions and share results. It’s a collaborative approach for journalists that MuckRock has seen more of in the last few years.

MuckRock isn’t the only organization putting forth ideas about how journalists can work together to cover the new president.

On Tuesday, Panama Papers journalists wrote for The Guardian about the need for both collaboration and solidarity in covering Trump. NPR stations nationwide are also working together to cover state government.

“It’s still a challenge, and it will continue to be a challenge,” Morisy said, especially in a tough business environment. But those same forces can also drive collaboration.

There’s already a strong community of open-government advocates, journalists and citizens who want to know what elected officials are up to. The Slack channel offers another outlet for that, Morisy said.

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Kelly Hinchcliffe, a WRAL reporter and FOIA columnist for Poynter, said she hasn’t tried the new channel yet, but she’s interested to see how it works. She often turns to colleagues for help with FOIA requests, and she’s on IRE’s NICAR listserv, where people ask questions now and then.

“Hopefully this will help reporters and others make requests more easily and learn more about the FOIA process. I’ve been making FOIA requests for years and still need advice every once in awhile.”

There are currently more than 90 active members and about 90 percent are journalists. Morisy is sending out invitations to people who’ve asked to join the group, and he plans to watch the channel closely to make sure people are respecting members’ privacy and behaving themselves.

MuckRock already has several resources for journalists covering Trump, including past findings about Trump and his cabinet picks.

The timing looks to be just right with the new administration’s push this week to remove some data sets from government websites and new restrictions on how one agency can communicate with the public and the press, Morisy said.

“I think making sure the public has access to what the government is up to is more important than ever.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include Hinchcliffe’s comments.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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