J-Lab, the Institute for Interactive Journalism at American University's School of Communication, just announced the launch of "The Citizen Journalist’s Guide to Open Government," an extensive multimedia module to help citizen media creators understand how to obtain public records and gain access to public meetings. The Guide to Open Government, the latest in a series of legal-themed modules produced by J-Lab, is hosted on the Knight Citizen News Network.
Geanne Rosenberg, a lawyer and founding chair of Baruch College’s undergraduate Department of Journalism and the Writing Professions, created the module for J-Lab. The guide addresses, among other things, how to obtain local, state and federal government records; how to appeal when a records request is denied; what steps to take if you've been excluded from a government meeting; and how to gain access to court proceedings. It's a great supplement to the Access to Government Information and Newsgathering sections in our legal guide, which cover some of these issues as well.
Most people would be surprised at how much information is available to them. And the best part is that you generally don't need to hire a lawyer or file any complicated forms -- you can access most of this information simply by showing up or filing a relatively simple request. Moreover, you don't need to be a professional journalist to share what you find with others; with nothing more than an Internet connection, you can make the information available to anyone in the world.
To help push states to facilitate access to this information, the Guide to Open Government features an interactive map that tells citizens how they can locate government information on each of the 50 state websites and then rates the states on how well they facilitate their citizens' access to the information. Easy-to-find information on a state's website gets a thumbs-up ranking. Hard-to-find information earns a thumbs down.
How does Massachusetts rate? In the middle of the pack, it seems.
(Note: The Knight Foundation, which funded some of the work on the module, also provides funding to the CMLP.)