Black redacted bars with the words For the Record

For the Record: Mudrock or MuckRock?

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MuckRock and Cicero Independiente’s latest investigation was released on Tuesday, focusing on the Koppers coal tar plant located between the village of Stickney and the town of Cicero, and its history of violations with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

During our investigation, the town of Cicero’s longtime spokesperson, Ray Hanania, declined to speak with the Independiente, privately telling the town’s attorney that the newsroom was nothing more than a “political group blog.” He also referred to MuckRock as “mudrock” and falsely claimed we are an “activist blog site.”

We obtained Hanania’s emails through an Illinois Freedom of Information Act request.

But, to at least partially respond to Hanania, we are not an activist site or partisan in any way. Our nonprofit independent newsroom was started to produce long-form investigative and accountability journalism projects, often with local newsroom partners, using public documents and data.

We have an editorial policy, which, among other things, goes into our mission to be exhaustive, impartial and transparent in both our reporting methods and coverage.

Our editorial team has published several high-profile investigations: “Uncounted,” with the USA TODAY network, which dug into errors on thousands of U.S. death certificates by undertrained and overworked coroners and medical examiners across the country, and the resulting undercounting of COVID-19 deaths, sparking reform, a slew of academic studies and a criminal case against an elected coroner in Missouri; “Atomic Fallout,” a collaborative project with the Missouri Independent and The Associated Press, a historical “re-investigation” of the Manhattan Project’s impact on the residents of the St. Louis suburbs, which resulted in bipartisan federal legislation to expand a victims’ compensation fund; and “Smoke, Screened,” a data project with NPR’s California Newsroom and the Guardian that uncovered, for the first time, the data behind a deregulatory tool found in the Clean Air Act that has allowed the EPA to strike pollution from clean air tallies in more than 70 U.S. counties, enabling local regulators to claim the air was cleaner than it really was for more than 21 million Americans.

“The Air We Breathe,” with the Cicero Independiente, is part of this tradition: a data and document-heavy collaborative news project involving our own installed and monitored air sensors; dozens of FOIA requests filed with state and federal agencies; and a rigorous fact-checking and “bulletproofing” process that involves us contacting every local official who has a connection to the story.

Beyond the editorial team, MuckRock serves as a public resource that brings together journalists, researchers, activists and regular citizens to request, analyze and share government documents. MuckRock provides a repository of hundreds of thousands of pages of original government materials through DocumentCloud, information on how to file requests and tools to make the requesting process easier.

The Update

  • State bills could expose media organizations to more liability: Florida state Senate and House panels this week approved bills that would change the state’s defamation laws, alarming First Amendment groups. If the bills are passed, they could potentially expose media organizations to increased legal liability, by allowing for public figures to sue journalists who rely on anonymous sources for information that turns out to be false, reports Jim Saunders in the Tallahassee Democrat.

  • Michigan bills could extend FOIA to governor and legislature: Two new bipartisan bills in the state of Michigan would require the governor’s office, lieutenant governor’s office and state legislature to be subject to FOIA requests, reports Anna Liz Nichols in the Michigan Advance. Michigan is currently one of two states that broadly exempt both the governor’s office and legislature from FOIA requests. MuckRock’s state guides give a breakdown on which branches of government are exempt where.

  • How a journalist-owned tech publication became profitable: 404 Media’s founders speak with Hanaa’ Tameez at Nieman Lab about how they’ve made their site profitable just six months after its launch. 404’s revenue streams include advertising, podcast ads, donations, merchandise and paid subscriptions.

FOIA Finds