How FOIA affects journalists

The Freedom of Information Act gives the government, journalists and citizens access to public records that cannot be found online.

Journalists went into detail about their experiences with FOIA at an event hosted by the Detroit Free Press. For example, Jim Schafer, professor at the University of Michigan – Dearborn and staff writer for the Detroit Free Press, has made FOIA requests for the Kwame Kilpatrick scandal, where the Detroit Free Press broke the story.

Police reports are the most common form of documents requested through FOIA, along with information, according to the event. The journalists advise to send a FOIA request as the last option, because chances are that information is public online.

The most interesting thing about FOIA is due to the advances in technology. Journalists and citizens are able to now request body cam footage. This is a great opportunity to review a situation further than a police report document, however, there are chances that footage can be exempt.

Exemption has been a problem for the journalists at the event. FOIA can black out any information that may give private information or the details needed to complete a story. The Detroit Free Press once requested medical records about the legionnaires outbreak at the beginning of the Flint water crisis. When the Press received the document, there was about 160 pages of blacked out information.

There are many pros and cons to FOIA, but if anything ever goes wrong, journalists are able to sue to receive information or to get money back. It is possible to lose the lawsuit. FOIA can be difficult at times but it provides a great system to receive information, especially being an investigative journalist.

Author: Chanel

Chanel Stitt is a Journalist at the University of Michigan - Dearborn working towards her Bachelor's Degree in Journalism, minoring in Women's and Gender Studies with a Certificate in Public Relations. She has worked at five local publications based in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Detroit.

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