Keeping government open and accountable is a year-round job. But Sunshine Week, which kicked off yesterday, is a great opportunity to rekindle our love for public access and share how everyone can get in on the FOIA love.
Here are some great, free resources if you’d like to dive into public records, want to brush up for the remaining 51 weeks of accountability fun, or want to help a friend get started.
The Official .Org
Presented by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, SunshineWeek.org has a slew of resources for learning more about the state of public access, including listings of local events, a public access toolkit, and even free editorial cartoons to help spread the good word:
The Sunshine Week website also features a collection of stories powered by public records, which are great fodder when coming up with your own ideas for transparency investigations and projects. (Here’s a list of stories MuckRock has found that use public records.)
The RCFP also has a wonderful guide to public records laws in all 50 states, which is indispensable for local records warriors.
File free on MuckRock
MuckRock is an easy, affordable way to file, track, and share public records requests to any city, state, or federal agency in America. Currently, there are a number of ways to file free requests to open up the documents you’re interested in.
If you’re in New England, the New England First Amendment Coalition is sponsoring free filing with easy to use forms. Simply click the state you want to file in:
- File a Connecticut Public Records Request
- File a Maine Public Records Request
- File a Massachusetts Public Records Request
- File a New Hampshire Public Records Request
- File a Rhode Island Public Records Request
- File a Vermont Public Records Request
You can also file a free request for information on drones anywhere in America through MuckRock’s Drone Census, or take on an assignment to earn free MuckRock requests to file on whatever subject interests you.
Stand on the shoulders of FOIA giants
One of the great things about the public records community is how transparent it is. You’re not in this fight alone, so get help and inspiration before venturing forth.
On MuckRock alone, you can browse through almost 9,000 public records requests submitted to thousands of agencies, and find a template or wording that matches what you’re interested in. Feel free to copy language that works for you — or mix and match to get the perfect request.
You can also get advice from MuckRock’s Requester’s Voice series. Some to look out for:
- Julia Angwin
- Chris Meller
- Edward Vielmetti
- C.J. Ciaramella
- Brooke Williams
- Steven Aftergood
- Kel McClanahan
- Ryan Shapiro
- Jason Leopold
If none of those can answer your questions, MuckRock has a free question and answer section to help hone in on what you need.
Have another great resource? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org: The more FOIA love, the merrier!