Wick Communications

Public access likely to get worse

In journalism on March 16, 2017 at 3:23 pm

It won’t come as any surprise to journalists that access to documents, elected officials and the legions of minions who (supposedly) work for us is not what it should be. Thanks to Wick CEO Francis Wick, I now know it’s only likely to get worse.

Thanks, Francis!

Francis alerted me to this study released this week by University of Arizona journalism professor David Cullier. He interviewed 300 journalists and freedom of information types and found great pessimism when it comes to access to government. Among his findings:

  • About half of the experts said access to state and local government records has worsened during the past four years. They said things were just as bad under President Barak Obama when it came to the federal government.
  • Survey participants reported long delays in getting information, documents that had been overly censored, high copying fees, out-of-date government technology and public officials not knowing the laws.
  • Nearly nine out of 10 predicted that access to information will worsen during the next four years under the new presidential administration.

Cullier was clear: American government has become more closed over long decades. This isn’t a partisan issue. Experts, he noted, suggest we should all be taught how to file a FOIA request in school as part of our basic civics lessons in an effort to combat this creeping secrecy. …

He also finds that most Americans just aren’t aware of the problem. Many don’t seem to understand that journalists seeking public records aren’t just mettlesome punks, but rather democracy’s heroes in action.

Here’s what I’ve found. Demanding public information requires a certain kind of muscle and that muscle needs exercise. The more you do it, the better you will get at it and the more your sources will come to expect it.

Nothing good is ever easy.

Clay

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