FOIAfest 2024: Full Program Announcement

Our annual public records conference, FOIA Fest, is returning as a one-day in person event on Saturday, March 16 at Loyola University Chicago’s downtown campus. Below is the full program for FOIA Fest. If you don’t have tickets, you can still purchase them.

Scroll to the bottom of the program for a campus map. Check in and the first session is in the Schreiber Center. The following sessions will be split between the Schreiber Center and the Corboy Law Center.

8:30 a.m. Check in 

9 a.m. Welcome remarks, Schreiber 908

Michael Puente, Vice President, FOIA Fest

9:15 a.m. | Keynote Interview: Kimbriell Kelly, Schreiber 908

Kick off FOIA Fest by hearing from Pulitzer Prize winner Kimbriell Kelly. She is the Washington bureau chief for The Los Angeles Times and was previously an investigative reporter at The Washington Post. Kelly got her start in Chicago working at The Chicago Reporter and The Daily Herald. Hear the public records expert share what she’s learned throughout her over 20 years in journalism, from record requests and investigative reporting to career advice and future of the industry.

  • Kimbriell Kelly, Assistant Managing Editor, Washington Bureau Chief, LA Times
  • Moderator: Taylor Moore, Freelance Journalist

Watch the full keynote interview.

10 a.m. to 2 p.m.| FOIA Fest Help Desk, Schreiber 908

  • Shelley Geiszler, Attorney, Loevy & Loevy

10 a.m.| FOIA Fest Session 1, 50 minutes long

Covering Immigration Amid a Migrant Crisis, Schreiber 908

Unpack how reporters are covering immigration, particularly during the ongoing migrant crisis the Chicago faces. Learn how reporters are using FOIA to get information from the city, and the obstacles they have faced trying to do so. 

  • Katrina Pham, Editorial and Engagement Fellow, Borderless Magazine
  • Melody Mercado, Reporter, Block Club Chicago 
  • Michael Puente, Reporter, WBEZ Chicago
  • Moderator: Joanna Hernandez, Reporter and Host of Latino Voices, WTTW News

FOIA 101: FOIA Best Practices, Corboy 206

A crash course on the Freedom of Information Act. What you need to know to request public records. Discover tips and tricks, what successful requests look like. 

  • Kelly Garcia, Reporter, Injustice Watch 
  • Jared Rutecki, Investigative Reporter, WTTW News
  • Lauren FitzPatrick, Investigative Reporter, Chicago Sun Times
  • Andrew Fan, Executive Director, The Invisible Institute
  • Moderator: Patty Lamberti, Program Director Multimedia Journalism, Loyola University Chicago

CASE STUDY: Investigating Some of the “Fixes” for Mass Incarceration, Corboy 306

Injustice Watch senior reporters Maya Dukmasova and Carlos Ballesteros will break down their investigations into legislative reforms that aimed to reduce Illinois’ prison population. Reporters will explain how they obtained the necessary records to produce their stories and the importance of investigating “solutions.” 

  • Maya Dukmasova, Senior Reporter, Injustice Watch
  • Carlos Ballesteros, Senior Reporter, Injustice Watch

11 a.m.| FOIA Fest Session 2, 50 minutes long

Holding Public Officials Accountable, Schreiber 908

Holding those with power accountable is a part of journalism’s foundation. Hear from some of Chicago’s best political reporters who have experience getting access to information public officials might otherwise not release. 

  • Gregory Royal Pratt, Investigative Reporter, Chicago Tribune
  • Heather Cherone, Chicago Politics Reporter, WTTW News
  • Mariah Woelfel, City government and politics reporter, WBEZ Chicago
  • Moderator: Steve Macek, Communications and Media Studies Chair, North Central College

CASE STUDY: How to report on two decades of Illinois traffic stop records, Corboy 206

Last year, WBEZ and the Investigative Project on Race and Equity compiled a database of 42 million police traffic stops from across Illinois to determine whether the state’s 20-year-old data collection program had any effect on racial disparities. It turns out, problems have only gotten worse over time. We’ll discuss our FOIA strategies and our approaches to sourcing and reporting this series of stories. We’ll also give a tour of the database, which we’ve released publicly in a variety of formats, so you can analyze policing trends in your corner of the state.

  • Taylor Moore, Freelance Journalist
  • Alden Loury, Data Projects Editor, WBEZ Chicago
  • Michael Liptrot, Reporter/Staff Writer, South Side Weekly
  • Matt Kiefer, News Applications Editor, WBEZ Chicago

Beyond the documents: The ethics of reporting with FOIA, Corboy 306

We know the importance of FOIA when it comes to reporting. But, there are more questions at play than simply having the documents. If you have an ethical question, or want to hear how ethics and FOIA go hand in hand in reporting, this panel is for you.

  • Corri Hess, Education Reporter, Wisconsin Public Radio
  • Monica Eng, Reporter, Axios
  • Reema Amin, Reporter, Chalkbeat Chicago
  • Moderator: Alex Veeneman, Freelance journalist

12 p.m.| Lunch break sponsored by Loevy & Loevy, Schreiber 908, 1 hour

1 p.m.| FOIA Fest Session 3, 50 minutes long

FOIA 102: Navigating FOIA Roadblocks, Schreiber 908

The Freedom of Information Act is often said to have “no teeth,” meaning enforcement of the law is nearly non-existent. Learn what resources are available when a governmental body isn’t completing your request from a FOIA lawyer and investigative reporters, and hear from an attorney representing municipalities in records requests to learn about the government’s side of this equation. 

  • Matt Topic, Partner, Loevy & Loevy
  • Dan Mihalopoulos, investigative reporter, WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team
  • Benjamin L. Schuster, Benjamin Schuster, Partner, Elrod Friedman LLP
  • Sarah Karp, Reporter, WBEZ
  • Moderator: David Weissman, Media Studies Instructor, North Central College

Leveraging FOIA for Transparency and Social Change in 2024, Corboy 206

In an era where access to information is pivotal, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a crucial tool for empowerment. This panel delves into how FOIA is instrumental for activists, journalists, and concerned citizens in pursuing transparency and social justice. From revealing environmental injustices to exposing civil rights violations, learn how leveraging FOIA has led to significant social change and informed public debate. Join us to understand the process, challenges, and strategies for the effective use of FOIA in 2024, illustrating its role in advocating for accountability and fostering an informed society.

  • Rita Oceguera, Reporter, The Trace
  • Sidnee King, Equity Reporter, Better Government Association
  • Josh McGhee, Investigative reporter, MindSitenews
  • Anthony Moser, Neighbors for Environmental Justice
  • Moderator: Rashanah Baldwin, Founder, Baldwin Media Group

Leveraging FOIA when covering LGBTQ+ communities, Corboy 306

If you’re a culture reporter who focuses on LGBTQ+ communities and you want to learn how to incorporate public records into your work, this panel is for you. We’ll talk through several examples in which records obtained through FOIA made LGBTQ-focused culture stories stronger, and discuss general best practices for searching for public records related to queer communities.

  • Adam Rhodes, Training Director, IRE
  • Micco Caporale, Staff Writer, Chicago Reader
  • Moderator: Maggie Sivit, Digital and Engagement Producer, WBEZ

2 p.m.| FOIA Fest Session 3, 50 minutes long

Leveraging FOIA in Environmental Coverage, Schreiber 908

Hear from local and national reporters alike about how to use the Freedom of Information Act to cover climate change, the environment and its impact on communities. 

  • Monica Eng, Reporter, Axios
  • Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco, Midwest climate reporter for Grist and WBEZ
  • Maxwell Evans, Hyde Park, Woodlawn and South Shore reporter, Block Club Chicago
  • Moderator: Siri Chilukuri, culture, labor, and climate change reporter; Freelance Journalist

Case Study: FOIA fights in Illinois and elsewhere, Corboy 206

Chris will share examples of FOIA challenges faced by journalists working under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, and how they compare to the roadblocks often encountered in other jurisdictions. While Illinois’ FOIA law leaves plenty of room for agencies to resist public records requests, it’s one of the strongest transparency laws in the nation. Hacker will share the differences between state laws, experiences he has had filing requests in less press-friendly places (Hacker has filed FOIAs in all 50 states + DC), and advice on what to do when you run into a transparency law that’s anything but transparent. 

  • Chris Hacker, Investigative Data Journalist, CBS News

Covering the health care beat — with and without FOIA, Corboy 306

Health care is one of the most important beats, affecting everyone from cradle to grave. Learn how to find records hidden in plain sight, and what and how to FOIA what you can’t find publicly. We’ll dive into a few stories, and you will walk away with tips for your next scoop or investigation. Kristen Schorsch is a veteran health care reporter who covers the beat at WBEZ Chicago public radio. Dan Weissmann hosts An Arm and a Leg, a podcast about the cost of health care. Join us! 

  • Kristen Schorsch, Reporter, WBEZ Chicago
  • Dan Weissmann, Founder and Host, An Arm and a Leg

3 p.m.| FOIA Fest ends

Map of Loyola’s Water Tower Campus

Courtesy Loyola University Chicago