Keeping public records public: Strategies for getting access during the pandemic

Aug 5 2020

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Aug 5, 2020 at 11:30am


Beth Francesco

[email protected]

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Journalism Institute

Government records belong to the public, but journalists often face delays and redactions that make it difficult to get the information they need to inform the public about significant issues. Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever for journalists to be strategic when they are seeking government records.

Registration is open now for this program, which will be held on Aug. 5 from 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. ET. 

In this 45-minute session from the National Press Club Journalism Institute, learn to build sound strategies and approaches to requesting and obtaining public records using the Freedom of Information Act and state open records laws. 

Panelists Miranda Spivack, journalism fellow at the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida, and Mark Walker, FOIA coordinator in The New York Times’ Washington Bureau, will cover: 

  • How to get to know FOI officers before sending a single request;
  • How to identify what information you’re looking for and where that information is produced; 
  • How to approach your ask: When and where to file, and who to ask; 
  • Strategies to decrease your wait time, especially as local, state and federal offices use the pandemic to explain delays. 

About the instructors: 

Miranda Spivack is a veteran reporter and editor who specializes in stories about government accountability and state secrecy, and has conducted several workshops on open government issues for IRE, LION, JAWS and other journalism organizations. She is a journalism fellow at the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida. Previously, she was a Fulbright Scholar in North Macedonia, where she taught journalism; the Pulliam Distinguished Visiting Professor of Journalism at DePauw University;  an advising editor to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project; and a former reporter and editor at The Washington Post. Her series “State Secrets” for and USA Today about the rise in state and local government secrecy, was a winner of SPJ’s 2017 Sunshine Award. Follow her on Twitter @mirandareporter

Mark Walker is the FOIA coordinator for the Washington bureau of The New York Times. Prior to joining the Times, Walker was a training director for Investigative Reporters and Editors. In that work, he instructed newsrooms around the U.S. on the best strategies for making requests for documents under FOIA. Mark worked as a watchdog reporter focusing on law and order at The Argus Leader newspaper in Sioux Falls, S.D. In 2016, he was named South Dakota Outstanding Young Journalist of the Year and won the South Dakota Newspaper Association’s public service reporting award for the series Locked in Limbo, on mentally ill criminal defendants languishing in jail because of delays in mental competency evaluations. Mark, a graduate of Fort Valley State University in Georgia, grew up in Savannah. Walker was recently elected to IRE’s board of directors. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bymarkwalker. 

The National Press Club Journalism Institute has added weekly programming, a daily writing group, and other support for journalists since March, and has waived registration fees for everything due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you value what you’ve been learning from the Institute during this time, please consider a donation of $5 or $10 for attending this program.