Whether you were able to join us in Chicago or are just looking for some investigative inspiration, here’s a collection of our favorite lessons learned and resources shared so far at this year’s conference.
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We heard a lot of inspiring things at FOIAFest this year. Here are a selection of our favorites.
“The basic function of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is to ensure informed citizens, vital to the functioning of a democratic society.”
“Radical transparency, rigor, trust, professionalism and generosity are essential to large collaborative journalism projects.” (Mago Torres)
“Whenever I hear the words ‘contract modifications’ I’m like ‘That’s it! I know there’s going to be a story here somewhere.’”(Alejandra Cancino)
“If you have a tickle in your gut, follow it and see what happens… Dare them to turn you down, sometimes you can turn that into a story.” (Dave McKinney)
“If you’re reporting about inequality, you can find stories just about anywhere … Geography helps journalists identify inequality in an important way,” (Alden Loury)
- Learn about forms that exist and ask for them by their specific names
- When you meet obstacles like huge fees or resistance from officials, make note of it in the story.
- Make sure your FOIA request is explicit, specific and sent to the right person.
- Ask for records electronically and in a sortable format, and know there is a deadline for a response
- When you ask for datasets always ask for accompanying data dictionaries or code sheets so you can read the data
- File a FOIA every day to start learning how your government works and build a pipeline of stories
- Make repeat request(s) with minor tweaks after rejection of first FOIA, or try other agencies
- BUT filing going over 7 FOIAs per week could get you out on a nuisance filer list, so be mindful
NO FOIA FOMO — SEE SESSIONS HERE
Did you miss a session or not get a ticket to FOIAFest this year? Some of the presentations are available online.
Looking for inspiration or to see some of the great investigative work discussed at this year’s FOIAFest? Check out any of the links below.
“The Quiet Rooms”: Chicago Tribune and ProPublica investigation into the widespread use of restraint and isolation in Illinois. They compiled mismatching records from over 100 schools to build a database of over 30,000 incidents.
Here are some links to online resources mentioned in panels at FOIAFest 2020.
Borderless Magazine’s Guide to Telling Better (and More Ethical) Immigration Stories
Broadcastify – Records scanner traffic
Citizens Police Data Project – Searchable database of police disciplinary records
Guide to writing FOIA requests to the Chicago Police Department
Post-conviction handbook from City Bureau