The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a beautiful thing for us journos. It’s how we investigate, hold governments and institutions accountable, promote transparency and how we sometimes get ourselves sued. (Because stingy governments/institutions say ‘I’m never gonna give you up’ to the records hiding out in their filing cabinets)
You should make FOIA requests a ritual. Bring on the FOIA Friday. Be curious. There’s so much information you can FOIA.
A little how-to:
STEP 1: Determine what you want to know. Do you want personnel files, emails, complaints, etc.?
STEP 2: Write up your request. (Using our template below) and send the magic email to Deborah Wilkins, WKU’s general counsel. Be sure to attach your request, fill out the subject line including the words – FOIA Request.
STEP 3: Wait. In Kentucky, institutions have 3 days to respond. But it could take longer for you to actually get the records. In the meantime, hike up your sleeves and do some more research on your topic, and get ready to rumble when the records are finally in your hands.
STEP 4: Digest. Once you have the records, take it all in. Read each word carefully and schedule additional interviews if necessary.
STEP 5: Write your story! Once you have your records, interviews and the right attitude, get to work. Stories relying on documents as sources can be tedious, so take the time to do it right and quadruple-check your facts.
Here’s some tips:
- If you are the type of person who wants to FOIA, FOIA, FOIA, then keep track of them on a spreadsheet.
- If the institution you are requesting from rejects you, pick up the phone and call the Kentucky Press Association FOI Hotline (the Herald is a member) at 502-540-2300. If it’s a big deal, call our personal FOIA-guru, Mr. Jon Fleischaker. They can tell you all you need to know and what to do next; and maybe that will include filing an appeal to the Attorney General’s office.
Use our handy dandy template down below.
Western Kentucky University
PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST
Dear Ms. Wilkins,
Pursuant to Kentucky Revised Statutes 61.870 to 61.884 I request access to and copies of any RECORDS YOU ARE REQUESTING including but not limited to SPECIFICS.
If you have questions regarding this request I would appreciate your communicating with me by telephone, rather than by mail. My number is YOUR PHONE NUMBER.
I would also like to request any documents be sent digitally by email if possible. My email is YOUR EMAIL.
I look forward to your compliance within three business days, as the statute requires.
Thank you for your assistance.
YOUR ORGANIZATION IF NECESSARY
YOUR PHONE NUMBER