Wednesday, May 06, 2009My paper sent me to the New England First Amendment Coalition's Freedom of Information/Investigative Journalism Seminar last week at the Boston Globe. The seminar was a full day chock full of tips, tricks and cool stories from seasoned journalists about how to get information from the government when they don't want to give it to you. I had to present what I learned to my team today at work, so I figured, "why not share the fruits of my labor with loyal Ten95 readers?"
So here you are, readers. The first installment of my notes from the seminar. Enjoy!
Mark Benjamin (Salon.com)
Story about US soldiers in
- A “15-6” is Army speak for an informal investigation where an officer investigates him/herself.
- When asking for a copy of an Army investigation, you often get a summary, not the entire document.
Pulitzer finalist for report on mentally unfit soldiers being sent into war: http://dartcenter.org/content/mentally-unfit-forced-to-fight
- use government language to ask for information they say you can’t have
- good FOI letter generator: http://www.rcfp.org/foialetter/index.php
- understand the law better than the bureaucrats using it to restrict your access
- know the timetable of how long an agency has to keep a document
- personnel matters are not confidential
- If you start an FOI request, finish it to the end. Otherwise, agencies will begin to think that if they give you a hard time, you’ll drop the issue.
- Make all requests to a higher official, not the press person, when possible, that way, if you have to get into a fight, you’re dragging the higher official into the issue as well
- Documents created as part of an investigation aren’t open while the investigation is ongoing, but documents that existed prior to the investigation (that may be included as evidence in the investigation) are open
- Ask what the investigation is –– specifically, ask for the letter from the person ordering the investigation to the investigator. You’ll find out if they are really investigating the right thing and it could lead to another story.