As citizens of the United States it is important to recognize and understand our rights. Under the Freedom of Information Act, as citizens, we have the right to know what our government is doing; where money is used, what policies are created etc… As Journalists, we can use this freedom to our advantage.
Because we have the right to know what our government does, we are allowed to access specific documents in the federal agency; any records such as letters, reports, papers, films, sound recordings, and photographs. Any citizen can request to access a document. No reason for access is necessary. No fee is required and the government must respond within 20 days.
To make sure you receive your document and receive it quickly make sure you limit your request and be specific. Understand and request what you want to include and do not want to include. Identify any information you may already know about the document such as the date.
On a state level, as a Journalist, it may be important to understand the laws of the state you may be working in. Understand laws such as Sunshine laws that allow public access to governmental meetings and documents. Understand the policies for open meetings in your state. They are important to know because you may be rejected from a meeting when you in fact had the right to be there.
With the advantage of the Freedom of Information Act, journalists can write better stories with more credibility and evidence. With governmental documents to prove a specific incident, a story can become increasingly more valid. It is important to understand what our rights are as citizens so as journalists we do not miss out on the town meetings offering a variety of information or miss out on specific documents providing proof that will complete our stories.