Who’s Watching the Watchers? Journalists, Public Records and Investigative Reporting on Immigration and Law Enforcement Blog Post

Investigative reporting is a form of journalism in which reporters deeply investigate a single subject. These journalists rely heavily on public records, documents and data for the basis of their stories.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is fundamental to investigative reporters in their research pursuit, as it allows any individual to request access to federal agency records. While it seems rather straightforward in theory, there are some exceptions to what can be obtained. Exemption 1 for instance, states that information regarding the interest of national security cannot be accessed by the public.

Similarly, Sunshine Laws require that certain proceedings of government agencies be accessible for the public to observe. These laws vary state to state but ensure that citizens have the option to stay up-to-date on government proceedings.

These legislations are put in place to hold the government and other corporations accountable by giving citizens the opportunity to access government or business documents. Without these legislations in place, the actions of people in power would be hidden from the public eye, allowing more room for corruption and greed.

The transparency of these laws allow investigative reporters a wealth of data to use as a basis for their investigation. Oftentimes the data that journalists gain from these documented sources serve as a foundation for stories that later go on to expose injustice or corruption and promote positive change in those areas.

In the Mar. 4 panel titled, “Who’s Watching the Watchers? Journalists, Public Records and Investigative Reporting on Immigration and Law Enforcement,” the speakers emphasized that if you don’t request the records, it is a guarantee that you wont get them. It is important that journalists not be hindered by the effort it takes to access to these documents, but instead utilize the information available.

FOIA and Sunshine Laws allow journalists the unique opportunity to dig deep into potential corruption and inform the community — whether local or national — of these occurrences.

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