Magazine article American Journalism Review

Fighting for Easy Access to SEC Financial Data

Magazine article American Journalism Review

Fighting for Easy Access to SEC Financial Data

Article excerpt

A federal database with an unassuming name and the potential to inspire a myriad of stories about American business has journalists fighting for wider access.

Last spring, the Securities and Exchange Commission introduced its $100 million Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval system (EDGAR) to process 10 million pages of 10-K and other reports filed by businesses each year. Currently, the SEC requires 2,500 corporations to file electronically and by mid-1996 wants all 15,000 filers online.

Yet for many researchers, EDGAR is a distant resource. Visitors to the SEC's New York, Washington and Chicago reading rooms (and eventually 10 other regional offices) can use EDGAR free. But elsewhere, no luck - although several commercial vendors offer access at hefty prices. That upsets many journalists and researchers who say SEC data should be more readily available.

The controversy stems from a $13 million contract awarded to an Ohio company, Mead Data Central, to provide a full-text search-and-retrieval system on 650 computer terminals for SEC staffers in Washington, D.C., and in the agency's public reading rooms. The company also received permission to sell direct access to EDGAR's data, with prices starting at $89,000 annually. The SEC says it hopes consumer on-line services such as Compu-Serve and Prodigy will buy access to EDGAR from Mead and offer it to their subscribers.

Even so, most researchers can't afford to go through commercial vendors, many of whom charge $2 to $6 per minute, argues James Love, director of Ralph Nader's Taxpayer Assets Project (TAP. …

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