The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a beautiful thing for us journos. It’s how we investigate, hold governments and institutions accountable, promote transparency and how we sometimes get ourselves sued. (Because stingy governments/institutions say ‘I’m never gonna give you up’ to the records hiding out in their filing cabinets)
You should make FOIA requests a ritual. Bring on the FOIA Friday. Be curious. There’s so much information you can FOIA.
A little how-to:
STEP 1: Determine what you want to know. Do you want personnel files, emails, complaints, etc.?
STEP 2: Write up your request. (Using our template below) and send the magic email to Deborah Wilkins, WKU’s general counsel. Be sure to attach your request, fill out the subject line including the words – FOIA Request.
STEP 3: Wait. In Kentucky, institutions have 3 days to respond. But it could take longer for you to actually get the records. In the meantime, hike up your sleeves and do some more research on your topic, and get ready to rumble when the records are finally in your hands.
STEP 4: Digest. Once you have the records, take it all in. Read each word carefully and schedule additional interviews if necessary.
STEP 5: Write your story! Once you have your records, interviews and the right attitude, get to work. Stories relying on documents as sources can be tedious, so take the time to do it right and quadruple-check your facts.
Here’s some tips:
- If you are the type of person who wants to FOIA, FOIA, FOIA, then keep track of them on a spreadsheet.
- If the institution you are requesting from rejects you, pick up the phone and call the Kentucky Press Association FOI Hotline (the Herald is a member) at 502-540-2300. If it’s a big deal, call our personal FOIA-guru, Mr. Jon Fleischaker. They can tell you all you need to know and what to do next; and maybe that will include filing an appeal to the Attorney General’s office.
Use our handy dandy template down below.
Attach a PDF or Word Doc with this information in an email to [email protected].
Western Kentucky University
Public Records Request
Dear Ms. Anderson,
Hope you are having a great day. Just wanted to reach out to ask for your assistance. Under the Kentucky Revised Statutes 61.870 to 61.884, I’m requesting access to the following information, in a digital format. My email is ().
- (What you’re requesting, be as specific as possible including but not limited to SPECIFICS.)
If you have any questions about this request, please feel free to call me at (YOUR PHONE NUMBER). I look forward to hearing from you. I would also like to request any documents be sent digitally by email if possible. My email is YOUR EMAIL.
Thank you for your help. I look forward to your compliance within three business days, as the statute requires.
YOUR ORGANIZATION IF NECESSARY
YOUR PHONE NUMBER