'Always appeal,’ and more pro tips from a dozen FOIA experts
By Jonathan Peters, Columbia Journalism Review, Mar. 17, 2017
IN JANUARY, CJR contributors published a selection of FOIA best practices, based on an analysis of more than 33,000 such requests. Among a number of conclusions, the analysis showed that individual practices (and the responses to them) can vary widely. I’d emphasize that using the Freedom of Information Act effectively is about more than preparing a request. Rather, it’s about the process: researching the agencies, following up with FOIA officers, appealing denials, and so on.
It’s critical, right now, that we make the best possible use of FOIA. President Trump has spent his first 50 days in office trolling the press, and a Knight study released this week shows that nearly 90 percent of freedom-of-information experts believe public access will get worse under Trump. One way for journalists to protect that access is to exercise the rights that guarantee it. January’s analysis was a step in that direction, gleaning lessons from successful requests. This effort, based on subject-matter expertise, complements it.
In observance of Sunshine Week, I asked a dozen FOIA experts for one piece of advice that would help journalists and others use the FOIA effectively. Here’s what they said:
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