Magazine article Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal

Fight for the Story

Magazine article Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal

Fight for the Story

Article excerpt

'No.' Journalists hear that word way too often from government officials. Whether it's a request for documents, an attempt to set up an interview with the expert on staff instead of the official spokesperson, or a quick question meant to do nothing more than confirm a budget figure, the default response often seems to be:

No.

There's a simple reason that public employees deny, delay or refuse.

It works.

Many journalists give up at the first sign of trouble. There are plenty of reasons for that. Sometimes it's fear of an editor whose voracious appetite for copy means that expending effort on a records battle seems like time poorly spent.

Sometimes it's resignation to what seems like fate: They're not going to give it to me, so why try?

Sometimes it's the path of least resistance: I can fight for this story, or I can do one that's friction free.

So in the larger discussion of why it can be so difficult to get government officials to give us what is clearly ours, there's an uncomfortable truth:

A lot of this is our own fault.

Too many times, we've sent the message that we don't really need this information all that badly. Or that when the going gets tough, we'll go bother someone else.

There's no question government officials routinely violate the law by using intimidation and other tactics to keep public information private. This edition of the Journal is full of examples of such malfeasance.

It's also full of examples of journalists who didn't take no for an answer. …

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