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.

Avoiding bias in journalism

When writing an article, I write with an open mind. Most of the events and organizations that I cover focus on positive things, so there are no true negative feelings within my stories.

However, this mindset did not occur last year when I was covering the Planned Parenthood protests. My article was biased towards Planned Parenthood, and I discussed how important it was to keep the non-profit in our communities. During the protest, I didn’t talk to the side that was against Planned Parenthood. This showed where my bias was placed, favoring Planned Parenthood and not acknowledging the opposing side.

The publication that I was working for at the time also accidentally published it before editing it. So not only was it biased towards one side, but it hadn’t been cleared by anyone.

Since this incident, I have been very careful about what I write and to make sure that it is not biased. The journalism career field does not accept bias, because as a journalist, you are supposed to tell the story through someone else’s perspective.

It was a true learning experience for me, and it definitely placed fear within myself. Knowing that an issue like this can get you shamed by other journalists and the public is a scary thing.

African American Graduation Rates in the Country

Picture sourced from The Washtenaw Voice.

Education has been expanding and accepting more as the years go by. However, students of color, specifically African American students, are not always provided with the best resources or skills needed in order to succeed in college.

A data table that looks at racial groups comparing the percentages of total number of students graduating to African Americans graduating is tremendously different. By searching through this, it appears that graduation rates remain in the high 50s, never exceeding the high 80s percentile.

When comparing the total graduation rates of college students to African American students, it is clear to see that many of these students are not doing as well as they could be. In Nevada, graduation rates of African American students are at a low of 43%. Many states report numbers in the 50s through 70s.

Some data is not collected for some of these states, but it is not necessarily needed if someone wants to look at the data from within a state.

This gap between education could be fixed in many different ways, but the problem has to be found before action can take place. It will also take a lot of time since this has been a problem for many years.

Voter turnout in Michigan by county 2016

By using Google Fusion Tables, it is easy to develop a story with the information provided in a map style. A map shows a further breakdown of data when there is a lot to cover in a set.

Instead of talking about the data as a whole, the ability to discuss one county or one region is possible. Take the region of southeast Michigan as an example. Talking about voter turnout in this area is now made easy because readers can visualize what they are reading about.

Voter turnout in the 2016 election by counties in Michigan.

Curious citizens are able to click every county and receive a number of how many people voted in each county. The voter turnout in Michigan by county in 2016 is displayed above, with only how many people voted; no politics involved.

Google Fusion Tabels gives the opportunity to provide maps without bias, such as the table above. This way there can be real data without having one side preferred over the other.


Inaccurate total tuition costs in comparative report

What is interesting about the comparative report of Michigan schools is that the University of Michigan – Dearborn has the lowest tuition out of the sixteen four-year universities.

Since it is a commuter school, room and board is only counted as $1,600. However, this is not always the case. The university has housing but it is not necessarily attached to the school’s name until recently.

Living at the Union at Dearborn, students are able to get a 10-month or 12-month lease with up to four occupants per room. Prices start at $600 per month.

This being said, the comparative report is not as accurate as it could be. The University of Michigan – Flint has recorded that room and board is $2,148, which is also not true. Both University of Michigan branches have Union’s attached to them with similar pricing.

This proves that the prices of total tuition are always changing, but this has always been the case of a student living at both University of Michigan  Dearborn and Flint branches.