So far: Four states, 2,005 miles, 10 sessions, 228 people
Tacoma, Wash. – Today I talked with a group of 50, about half citizens, at the The (Tacoma) News Tribune. Great stuff!
I enjoyed catching up with people I knew when I worked at Washington papers as a reporter and city editor, including awesome staffers from The Herald in Everett, and Frank Garred, the former publisher of a weekly I interned at in Port Townsend. Throughout the room FOI pros chimed in with insights and tips. Kudos to David Seago for coordinating the event for the Washington Coalition for Open Government and the Western Washington SPJ pro chapter.
We also had a bunch of citizens there who wanted to find out how to use public records to find problems in their community, such as groundwater pollution and corruption. Some of these folks are prolific requesters and sue for records often. They asked great questions.
Tip No. 7: This got me thinking about a previous session where a citizen journalist asked whether it would be OK to submit a public records request under a fake name so the agency doesn’t figure out who the requester is. I don’t think that would be a good idea. It just seems a little ironic to demand openness and transparency, and then hide one’s identity through lying. Also, we are in the truth business, so lying is incompatible with what we do. The agency might find out anyway. Now, in general, public record laws don’t require you to identify yourself or why you want the record (some exceptions). But from a practical perspective, it speeds things along if you leave a name and contact information so they can let you know when the records are ready. If it’s really important to mask the identity of a requester, then perhaps a proxy might be appropriate. Businesses do this a lot with FOIA requests so they don’t tip off the competition on what records they are requesting (I’m told by former SPJ President Christine Tatum that you can make money as a records request proxy for companies). If I were a journalist, however, I still probably wouldn’t do that. I think it’s better to be up front with agencies. Honesty is the best policy.
I got a shot of Mount Shasta while heading from California to Oregon. The North Cascades are spectacular, all the way from Mount Shasta to Canada.
Following the lunch session in Tacoma (just south of Seattle), I drove east across the North Cascades mountain to stay in Yakima, Wash. The snow was heavy across Snoqualmie Pass, but again I skirted the wrecks and avoided having to chain up. One thing I love about the Pacific Northwest is those great snowy peaks!
Coming Wednesday: A visit to the Tri-City Herald in Kennewick, Wash., (where I was an assistant city editor in a past life) for the William O. Douglas SPJ chapter, then up to Spokane to talk to journalists at the Cheney paper and in the Spokane Valley.