May 9th, 2010
Day 12: From Wyoming to India – sunny there?
By David Cuillier
So far: Seven states, 3,456 miles, 18 sessions, 317 people (see schedule)
Cody, Wyo. — Today I chatted with some folks from Cody, Wyo., including Ron Feemster, adviser to the Northwest College student paper, the Northwest Trail. Feemster is leaving his position this summer to take a job teaching at the Indian Institute for Journalism & New Media.
That’s right. From Cody to to Bangalore. He’ll teach investigative reporting to the master’s-level students who are learning how to apply U.S. journalists’ skills in their country. Ron asked me how transparent Indian government is. Good question!
Tip No. 11: Since I don’t know much about India, when I get queries about how freedom of information laws work in other countries (the lingo in the international community is “Access to Information (ATI)” laws, or often Right to Information (RTI) laws), I refer people first to www.freedominfo.org, which provides detailed information about access to information in most countries. You’ll find a report by access scholar Alasdair Roberts, who analyzed how well India’s FOIA law has been working, now in its fourth year (based on a paper he published in January in Public Administration Review). Also, FOIAnet is a great resource for international FOI issues. Right2Info.org also provides a breakdown of countries’ access laws.
Another interesting conversation was with a psychology professor who attended the session in Cody. I asked for his suggestions in using psychology to get clerks to comply with the law, and he offered some keen insights:
Tip No. 10: Empower clerks to use their power. A lot of clerks aren’t paid that much, but are likely to get a lot of satisfaction out of serving the public and having a little bit of power. He said he assesses a person’s sense of power and the importance they place on that power. So if a clerk feels a sense of power over the records (and who gets them and who doesn’t), use that to your advantage. Acknowledge their power, don’t discount it Discounting: “It doesn’t matter what YOU say, the LAW says you have to give me the record.” Acknowledging: “I understand you have to make decisions on how these documents are disseminated, and that you take that responsibility seriously. I respect that. I appreciate the authority you have in providing these records to me and the rest of the public.”
After chatting in Cody, I drove 481 miles to Rapid City, S.D. What beautiful country! I am so lucky to be seeing the greatness of this land. I passed by Belfry, Mont., on the way. The mascot for the high school? The bats, of course.
Sunday: The Rapid City Journal staff will gather Sunday 11:30-1 to talk about access. What a dedicated bunch to take time out of their weekend! Then I drive to Sioux Falls, S.D., in preparation for a Monday morning session.