Thursday, March 22, 2007

SPLC helps celebrate Sunshine Week; story ideas abound in public records

As we recover from the loss of House Bill 1307, it's about time we get back to looking at how we can continue to produce great journalism at our school newspapers.

The Student Press Law Center, one of the most ardent supporters of student press rights, recently helped to celebrate
Sunshine Week. Sponsored by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, "Sunshine Week is a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information."

Always the best legal resources around for student journalists, the SPLC has outdone itself with its revised Access to High School Records feature. It's a ready-made guide on how you can get your hands on -- and use -- some of the most common high school records that fall under freedom of information laws.

One example: How many students eat in your school's cafeteria everyday? Why not see how the school's kitchen stood up in its last health inspection? The records are right there for you to examine.

Don't know how to get a hold of those records? It's usually pretty simple, according to the SPLC:
An informal request for the relevant records should be enough to get the information you want. Just asking the appropriate school or government official politely should be all that it takes. However, if your informal request is not successful, you may be forced to invoke the power of your state’s open records law by making a formal request in writing.
If you have to make that formal request, the SPLC can help you with its FOI letter generator, which will cite the appropriate Washington law. Be careful how you use it, though; while it makes it clear that you have a right to the documents in question, it also has a pretty clear adversarial tone to it.

Take the time to check out the site. It's full of great ideas for enterprising reporters looking to do some good investigative journalism.

No comments: