SPJ Member Disclosure: July 2010

SPJ picks three members a month for a Q&A about freedoms, challenges and advice journalists have regarding access. The page is updated the first Tuesday of every month, so keep checking back to read the responses!

Ashley Hemmy, University of Florida Chapter President

How would a federal shield law help today’s journalist?

A journalist has an obligation to his or her source. Any information obtained can remain confidential, and should if the source desires it to be. A federal shield law will legally protect a journalist who is doing his or her job.

Do you have a story to share about how Freedom of Information has helped you?

The University of Florida chapter of SPJ held an FOI audit during Spring 2009 and obtained files such as football coach Urban Meyer’s contract.

When I was a police reporter for The Independent Florida Alligator, I had access to police reports from local departments.

What can journalists do to ensure a bright future for Freedom of Information?

Journalists should remain knowledgeable about laws involving Freedom of Information. They should use FOI objectively and truthfully, and they should stand up when they or a fellow journalist has been wronged.

Adrian Uribarri, Chicago Headline Club Member & Freelance Journalist

What does Freedom of Information mean to you?

To me, freedom of information is a matter of responsibility. As journalists, we have the duty to not only seek information, but to sort through the ethics of publishing it. Some information is rightly in the public domain, yet we need to temper our zeal for holding power accountable with a healthy amount of restraint. What’s good for business is not always what’s good for journalism and the public, so we should be able to justify every instance in which we publish sensitive, albeit available, information.

Do you have a story to share about how Freedom of Information has helped you?

There’s a discussion going on here in Chicago that has the potential to help journalists. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley recently decided to publish all Freedom of Information Act requests to the city on its website. Some journalists perceived this as retaliation for their critical coverage of the mayor, arguing that it hampers their competitive edge by giving rival news organizations a peek at their investigations. The mayor responded that it was simply a matter of transparency. Yet he hasn’t committed to posting the city’s responses to those requests online. If his motivations are pure, then it would follow that transparency goes both ways.

Mac McKerral, Western Kentucky University Chapter Co-Adviser & Member of SPJ Diversity Committee

What does Freedom of Information mean to you?

Unrestricted access by the public to government business at all levels of government.

Do you have a story to share about how Freedom of Information has helped you?

I’ve been doing journalism since 1980, and all the jobs I had required using FOI at many levels of government. The paper trail is indispensible.

Everyone should do it as often as they can if for no other reason to see how offensive many records keepers ignorant of the law can be.

What can journalists do to ensure a bright future for Freedom of Information?

Make it a “public” issue and not a media issue. We have never really succeeded at convincing the public that FOI is not journalism’s battle. It’s the public’s battle.

Defending the First Amendment and promoting open government are more crucial now than ever. Join SPJ's fight for the public’s right to know — either as an SPJ Supporter or a professional, student or retired journalist.


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