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The Art of Access: Strategies to get the public records you need
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The Art of Access: Strategies to get the public records you need

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Chip Stewart of the TCU Schieffer School of Journalism shares some practical tips on how to get access to public records.

Chip Stewart of the TCU Schieffer School of Journalism shares some practical tips on how to get access to public records.

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    The Art of Access: Strategies to get the public records you need The Art of Access: Strategies to get the public records you need Presentation Transcript

    • The art of access:strategies to Get the records you need
      Texas Center for Community Journalism
      Workshop, Aug. 4, 2011
    • The guidebook
      The Art of Access: Strategies for Acquiring Public Records
      By David Cuillier (current SPJ FOI chair) and Charles N. Davis (former director of National Freedom of Information Coalition)
      CQ Press 2010, $23.95
    • Step 1: Get in the FOI habit
      Developing “a document state of mind”
      Remember who the government works for and why we have FOI laws
      You are doing your job and the public’s business
      Make an “FOI First!” sign & designate a day of the week to be your FOI day
      Find an FOI Friend
      TCCJ, FOIFT, local SPJ chapter
      Network, brainstorm, find ideas that have worked elsewhere
      Make a Twitter list: @MediaLawProf, @TxFOIFT, @DavisCN, @RCFP, @TCCJ @JoelCampbell
    • Step 2: become an expert
      You’re here – that’s a great start!
      Keep a copy of the law handy
      Get the Attorney General handbooks (which are free) and read them
      Expect the exceptions (real or made up) that records custodians will throw at you
      Always ask how that exception applies, why you can’t have that record today, what parts don’t need to be redacted
      If you’re confident in the law, your response will be accurate (and they may not know what to do)
    • Step 3: learn about records
      How are documents kept? Who keeps them? Where and how?
      Identify your records custodians, introduce yourself, get to know them
      Find out where documents are created and where they go to die
      Ask for a list of records and documents that agency/body keeps
      Ask for an FOI log – who is filing requests and what are they asking for?
      Find everything you can online
    • STEP 4: make good requests
      Do your homework
      know who keeps what records, find out what the record is called, be specific
      Ask verbally first
      Be polite, show respect, build relationships, understand that it is more work for them
      Write a good, specific letter
      Choose a tone – honey or vinegar?
      Argue interests rather than positions
      “Getting to Yes” – principled negotiation
      Understand motivations of record-holders
    • STEP 5: overcoming denials
      Common denials
      No response
      Your request is overly broad
      That record doesn’t exist
      We’ll get back to you
      Part is covered by exemption, so you can’t have any of it
      You can have it…for $105,000
      Make the denial the story
      Seek administrative options (appeal, AG)
      Get legal help & file a lawsuit