By Anders Gyllenhaal
the 35 years since the passage of the Freedom of Information Act
and its state counterparts, putting the rules of openness into practice
has never been easy. Every day of the week, FOI advocates have to
work to pry loose records, keep public meetings open and hold government
secrecy in check.
But in the last
several years, this struggle has taken on new dimensions, particularly
for newspapers dealing with access issues. The speed and breadth
of the Internet, growth of the privacy movement and developing information
technologies have added new layers of complexity.
With this in
mind, the American Society of Newspaper Editors has launched a two-year
project to develop strategies for dealing with the changing FOI
the First Amendment Center, ASNE’s Freedom of Information Committee
spent the last year studying these topics, researching the commercialization
of public records and conducting a national opinion poll and a survey
of newspaper editors across the country.
of this work will be presented at ASNE’s convention next month in
Washington, D.C. We’ll then start on the second phase of this project,
developing strategies in three main categories:
newspapers believe governments should handle the digital information
challenges. This will include how freedom of information
guidelines should apply across the government’s new digital landscape,
a push for openness for electronic records, views on the government
sale of public records, and recommendations for model legislation
on these several fronts.
newspapers can do a better job with digital FOI issues.
This will include writing a policy statement on privacy, developing
recommendations for newspaper Web sites to provide more access,
and providing new ideas for FOI advocacy in an electronic world.
newspapers stand on new information technologies. This
will cover guidelines on the commercialization of records that keep
FOI principles foremost, guidelines for journalistic uses of databases
that clarify our public service goals, and development of a model
will collect the views of newspaper leadership on these questions
over the summer, review the work of other FOI groups on these topics,
and put together a draft strategy to be debated and revised at an
FOI summit scheduled for Sept. 28-29 in Washington.
A final version
will be ready for ASNE’s 2002 convention. When it is complete, we
hope the strategy will work on two levels: helping individual newspapers
of every size navigate these challenges, and helping the newspaper
industry take the offensive in confronting these issues.
is executive editor at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., and
chairs ASNE’s Freedom of Information Committe.