In an article today, the Columbia Journalism Review discusses in-depth the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting’s recent story on Citizens Awareness Foundation and its abuse of Florida’s Sunshine law.
The CJR story, by University of Kansas journalism professor Jonathan Peters, includes an interview with FCIR Editor Tristram Korten. Peters writes:
The main problem here is one I underline in my media law courses: It’s important for journalists and others to be good citizens under FOI laws. That is, putting aside how you’re entitled to use them, you shouldn’t use FOI laws in arbitrary or unreasonable ways—you’ll poison the well for everyone. Misuse can encourage legislators to write more FOI exemptions into law, or make record custodians more resistant to requests.
So, there are institutional and public-interest rationales for the press to police how FOI laws are used. That’s partly what motivated [Tristram] Korten and [Trevor Aaronson] Aaronson to call out the Citizens Awareness Foundation.
Korten tells Peters: “It felt unusual to write a story on the public records law from the other side of the street—to focus on people treated unfairly under the law. But the public interest called for it. We all should take notice when something’s jeopardizing the robustness of our sunshine laws. They’re not self-sustaining — they require attention.”
This is not the first time FCIR has received high marks from the journalism review. In 2011, CJR described FCIR as “pioneer bilingual investigative nonprofit.”