Chicago Journalists Report Dismal Public Access

Chicago Headline Club Survey: 

Journalists Report Dismal Information Access

Obtaining information from many Chicago and Cook County departments is so difficult that many journalists have given up trying, a survey of area journalists found. State and federal officials were generally more forthcoming but not perfectly transparent, the survey determined.

The Chicago Headline Club, the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, conducted the study in early 2011 with funding from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

The survey asked local reporters about typical response times for information requests. It found:

* 72.5 percent of requests in Cook County, 66.7 percent of requests to the City of Chicago and 66.3 percent of requests of the State of Illinois took longer than five days to receive a response, and

* 51.6 percent of requests to the federal government took longer than 20 days to receive a response.

“We believe our evidence of the difficulties, even with the revised 2010 Illinois Freedom of Information Act, demonstrates that problems still exist,” said Susan S. Stevens, Chicago Headline Club president. “We want to encourage the new administrations of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to be as open as possible. This is important not just to journalists but also to the public, which has the right to open government.”

The Chicago Headline Club commissioned the University of Illinois Survey Research Laboratory (SRI) to conduct the Webbased survey. The survey was distributed in February and March 2011. The survey project was funded with a $40,000 grant from the McCormick Foundation.

“The McCormick Foundation is dedicated to protecting press freedoms and enhancing transparency in government,” said McCormick Foundation Journalism Program Director Clark Bell. “This survey documents what many of us have suspected for some time, namely that local, county and statewide agencies are not as forthcoming with the information that reporters and all of us need and expect from government agencies.”

The executive summary and the entire survey can be found on the Chicago Headline Club’s Web site, www.headlineclub.org. The club, a professional organization for journalists and the local chapter of the national Society of Professional Journalists, will ask officials for a series of dialogue meetings to discuss how to improve transparency. Beth Konrad, the immediate past president of the Chicago Headline Club, is the project director for this study and worked with SRI on the development and administration of the survey. For more information, call Chicago Headline Club President Susan S. Stevens, 312-733-1936, or the club’s Executive Director Kathy Catrambone, 312-733-7301.

About the Robert R. McCormick Foundation

The Robert R. McCormick Foundation is committed to fostering communities of educated, informed and engaged citizens. Through philanthropic programs, Cantigny Park and museums, the Foundation helps develop citizen leaders and works to make life better in our communities. The Foundation was established as a charitable trust in 1955, upon the death of Colonel Robert R. McCormick, the longtime editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. The Robert R. McCormick Foundation is one of the nation’s largest foundations, with more than $1 billion in assets. For more information, visit www.McCormickFoundation.org.

Download the executive summary.

Download the full 61-page report.

Download a snapshot of the results.

Read anecdotes from real Chicago journalists about their access issues.

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