Posts Tagged ‘access to information’

In Nottingham, culture drives FOI decisions more than real dedication to transparency

Stories are an integral part of directing culture. The action behind the stories  are shaped by what produces the most tangible results. One leading thinker in the business world describes it this way:

“Ultimately, people don’t even think about whether their way of doing things yields success. They embrace priorities and follow procedures by instinct and assumption rather than by explicit decision—which means that they’ve created a culture,” said Clayton Christensen, author and professor at Harvard Business School. “Culture, in compelling but unspoken ways, dictates the proven, acceptable methods by which members of the group address recurrent problems. And culture defines the priority given to different types of problems.”

Basically,  actions must match declared priorities in order to effect long-lasting change. However, we often see government officials claim to embrace transparency only to behave secretively in seeming opposition.  An example of this was seen in the United Kingdom.

A town made famous in part by tales of Robin Hood robbing the rich and giving to the poor seems to be in need of a modern-day hero to protect citizens from their seemingly stingy government and its lack of transparency.

Nottingham City (UK) officials established a standard of access to government information, set forth their commitment to open government on their Access to Information page:

“Nottingham City Council is dedicated to providing the easiest possible access to information while protecting individuals’ privacy,” the page reads.

However, those who respond to freedom of information requests often complain of the excessive time and expense spent in providing this information.

Nottingham is the only city in the country that will not release a monthly report on expenses over £500  ($776.30).  Their explanation? Compliance would cost the city more than £100,000 year, ($155,260) explained John Collins, Nottingham City Council leader.  He also said FOI requests have run the city annually upwards of £500,000 ($776,300).

However, one UK blogger discovered Collins’ estimation of the cost burden of Freedom of Information was off by about £430,000 .  A response to a Freedom of Information request regarding the city’s financial output in this sector on the city’s disclosure log — indicated the actual amount spent on responding to FOI requests was somewhere around £64,000 ($99,360) per year. At the very least this raises questions as to where Collins got his cost estimates.

Apparently Nottingham’s culture toward government transparency was not being guided by fact and their purported ‘dedication’ to  providing information. This  illustrates the necessity of journalists in maintaining what many governments claim to be a priority: transparency and open government. In other words, follow the journalist’s creed to trust but verify.

Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email – –  or on twitter – @whitevs7

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FOI Tip of the Week: New online FOI training videos for SPJ members posted

The folks here at SPJ are dedicated to providing high-quality tips and training for professional journalists on topics ranging from social media to narrative writing.

But one of the pillars of journalism most dear to our hearts is, without a doubt, the public’s right to freedom of information.

Public records provide journalists with some of their hardest-hitting stories, and this week SPJ added new training videos to its website to show members how to get the most use out of public records in their communities.

We posted five new FOI training videos to the site Monday that are accessible to all SPJ members. (If you’re not a member of SPJ, you won’t be able to access them. Unless, that is, you head over to the website and become a member – thereby gaining access to the FOI videos and loads of other useful training materials.)

The videos focus on various aspects of FOI, including how to request electronic records, overcome wrongful agency denials and get speedier responses to requests.

The videos feature tips from SPJ FOI Committee Chairman David Cuillier and include cameos from your SPJ HQ staff.

Once you’ve finished watching the FOI videos, you can hone your freelancing chops by checking out the new freelance-focused videos we just added as well.

All videos are part of SPJ’s ECAMPUS: Where Journalists Go to Know training program.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email ( or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).



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