Public Access Anecdotes


Chicago-area journalists talk

about public access*

*An excerpt from the Reporters’ Rights and Access Survey released May 25, 2011

Download the executive summary.

Download the full 61-page report.

Download a snapshot of the results.

Read our press release.

Please provide us with one anecdote or example about your experience as a journalist regarding press credentials, Freedom of Information requests, attending public meetings, or anything else related to disseminating information to the public.

  • A few times, I was on assignment with no credentials. Sent out spur of the moment, what have you. People are skeptical sometimes when being asked questions. They ask ‘are you really a reporter.’ My standard reply wins them over. ‘Look, would I be doing this for fun.’ 
  • A group of parents planned to attend a meeting to support a principal who may be let go. I was let in with open arms, although interestingly, the board was open to answering questions, but the president of the PTA did not want to talk. 
  • A recent experience with the City of Chicago’s Department of Housing and Economic Development has been frustrating. The request, which dates to October 2010, was for tax-increment financing records dating back 10 years. Initially, reporters working for ChicagoTalks were told they needed to prioritize which records were most important, as it would take the city too long to find key information about 171 projects set to receive a total of more than $1 billion in TIF money. Today–nearly four months after the initial phone call, followed by a formal FOIA request and numerous e-mails and phone calls, only some of the information requested has been turned over. This city agency is typical of other city agencies under Mayor Richard Daley in that everything has to be put in writing before the request will be acted on and all FOIA requests are posted publicly, though the city’s response–or lack of response–doesn’t appear to be made public in that same way. 
  • Access to police reports in the City of Chicago has been ridiculously curtailed in recent years. A decade ago, it was common for reports to be available, especially in districts; now they are hardly ever available, and the PD rarely will go beyond the information contained in initial notifications in explaining any crime, including homicides. Until about 10 years ago, there was an accessible log of all FBI index crimes; that log is no longer available to journalists, and the only thing News Affairs makes public is a barely-maintained log of shootings and stabbings; this leaves out other violent crimes, major traffic accidents, thefts, and sex assaults, as well as child abuse incidents. 
  • Agencies, especially at the city of Chicago NEVER take or return phone calls requesting information without incessant follow-up from a reporter. 
  • As a cartoonist I carry a lot of art supplies. It always astounds me with what I can or cannot bring into a secure area. For instance, I used a special paper that required a special chemical. That was taken away. However, I also use a kneaded gum eraser that looks a whole lot like plastic explosive. That has never been taken away or even questioned. The inconsistency of security measures never, ever ceases to amaze. 
  • As a blogger, I received requested emails as part of my FOIA from a suburban municipality. All materials were provided in accordance with the state law. As a journalism teacher and adviser, I worked with my students on a FOIA request from the city of Geneva, which handled without any problems, which impressed me as these were high school journalists working with a FOIA request. 
  • As a freelance journalist and arts writer, I’ve had very little trouble talking to the people and attending the events that I need in order to write about my beat. I had more trouble when I was a very young journalist, but that was many years ago (25 years). I now have an understanding about how to make this happen. 
  • as a general rule, it’s far easier to get information without a foia, which tends to slow everything up and make it legal-ish. but some flaks will ask for a foia request just to cover themselves, then promptly comply 
  • As a veteran TV news anchor, I’ve been out of the rough and tumble of everyday news gathering for a few decades but the fact is, I’ve been there. I’ve been kicked out of public meetings. had my credentials challenged, and seen my FOIA requests delayed, denied, or deliberately misinterpreted. Here in Illinois, there still a mindset among elected officials as well as public employees that public information belongs only to them, and too often, they jealously guard that information. 
  • As an editor of a project on juvenile prisons, I was disappointed with the delays and eventual denial of meaningful access for our reporters to youth prisons. 
  • As I tried to explain (unsuccessfully) to Ms. Diffenderffer, I am a news manager who supervises coverage, rather than doing the coverage myself. 
  • At the Rod Blagojevich trial, members of the press and public started lining up outside the courthouse at 4 a.m. to get seats. Then just before the courthouse opened, a group of law students led by their professor clouted their way into the building and were allowed to go to the head of the line at the courtroom door. Those who had waited in line raised hell with the federal marshals who guard the courtrooms and the law students were politely told to get out of line. 
  • At the scene of a multi-alarm fire in Chicago, I was not permitted to enter the area where the fire department spokesman was giving a briefing to reporters despite having a police credential and despite carrying reporting materials (including electronic news gathering gear) with my media outlet’s logo. The patrol officer was abusive and said my credential was out of date. CPD has not updated its credentials in several years. I was unable to gain access to the media briefing. 
  • Attempted to obtain statistics from Illinois High School Association about injuries to high school athletes. Received some of the information we sought. We were told the information not provided was not collected by the IHSA. 
  • Because my writing is almost exclusively feature writing, music and arts events, etc., I am not dealing on any regular basis with stories requiring press credentials or affected by access concerns. However, I am a strong proponent of reporters’ rights and access and will continue to support the enforcement of such issues. 
  • Chicago is among the most difficult places I’ve ever encountered getting public records. By way of example, I put in a request a for a handful of contracting documents, bids, etc from CPS. It took nearly three months to get a response. When records were finally provided, much of the information we requested was missing and it was nearly impossible to them to fulfill our request. 
  • Chicago Police Dept very difficult to work with, high percentage of FOIA’s rejected. Metropolitan Water Reclamation Dist. good at fulfilling FOIAs, but makes attending brd. meetings burdensome. Must show ID to get access to brd meeting, which I find troubling. Feds take forever to get anything done. I file a lot of FOIAs, and rarely does one get returned in five days or less. If it’s complicated and expansive, I understand. But often the info requested is minimal and easily obtained, but still takes more than a week to return. 
  • Chicago police officers some not all could care less that you have a press card and push you back to far from the scene. 
  • Chicago Public Schools is very slow in responding to FOIA requests, and has been claiming exemptions that I do not think are fair. Also, I never filed a federal FOIA request but your questionnaire required me to full out answers to questions about federal FOIA responses. 
  • Chicago, more often than not, denies any request immediately and we must get our attorneys involved. Frequently, the process becomes so lengthy and cumbersome, we end up surrendering, since the story loses its immediacy. Cook County usually ends up losing it in the chaos that is Cook County government. In fact, I’m waiting for a response on a FOIA request right now. On week two, I made calls to contact people within the county just yesterday. Those calls went ignored. On a federal level, FOIAs receive responses, but are rarely fulfilled. Unrelated to FOIA, but still related to questions earlier in the survey, is the topic of access to jails and prisons. My experience in this is extensive and it is important to note the gross violation of civil rights when attempting to visit inmates who have requested us to visit. I have found press credentials to be a deterrent and that concealing my identity as a journalist is my only option. As a citizen, I can usually gain access, but not before such abuses as full-body strip with cavity search. It really has happened. 
  • Confusion about credentialing in covering remodeling of Wrigley Field and also renovation of Soldier Field. Agency authority? State? Team? Some association? League? Park District? Very awkward and confusing. 
  • Cook County used to be particularly unresponsive. The last request I recall being fulfilled took six months, and repeated badgering. We’ll see if a new administration is better. It took a year and a half for the feds to fulfill my FOIA request. As for the City of Chicago, I have found that when the city rejects a FOIA request, appealing to the Attorney General’s office has been fruitful. I’m very grateful for an information advocate at that level. 
  • DuPage, Kane and Will County courthouses are the only real bain of my existence. Fortresses in short. Even this day of instant communication Will bans cell phones. DuPage Courthouse folks are historical unfriendly and uncooperative. Most other law enforcement agencies frm the feds to the locals GENERALLY have accessible media point people who ‘get it’. I’ve seen a VAST improvement over the past 20 years. 
  • Filed a Freedom of Information request with the Chicago Police Department. It was handled promptly and the Police Research Department compiled information that I had requested. 
  • Freedom of Information laws tend manage routine paperwork and are not effective for unusual requests. 
  • Freedom of information requests are the most difficult and time consuming way to obtain information. I have not had a problem with admittance to any news situation with proper credentials. 
  • Getting any kind of information from the Chicago Public Schools central office is a total nightmare. 
  • Getting information is easier if you know the agency flack and ask for help in filling out the Freedom in a way that they can understand it and process it. If it is a ‘stealth’ request, it’s better to gather some intelligence first so you can ask for exactly what you need in language the agency understands. I used to have City of Chicago police press ID, but it didn’t get me into anything–in particular, O’Hare Airport on 9/11/2001. State Capitol ID is no longer good for the Thompson Center. 
  • Have used credentials to cover trials, police hearings, crime scenes, etc. Have used FOIA requests to get data on airplane safety, records on police treatment of prisoners in city jail, environmental data and other instances too numerous to mention. 
  • I’m a sports writer. Not really applicable. 
  • I’m a Tribune features reporter and the Chicago Police department always denies or fails to respond to my requests for police reports. In Ohio, I had NO trouble obtaining this kind of information. I’d love to see the Tribune and the Sun-Times sue them over that. 
  • I’m an editor, not a reporter. But my reporters have often experienced difficulty getting public officials to fulfill FOIA requests, either in a timely manner or just to fill them, period. 
  • I’m finding myself FOIAing other FOIAs. 
  • I’ve been a reporter for 30 years, and I don’t think anyone has ever asked me for press credentials. Maybe a couple times at most. Very rare. 
  • I’ve been trying to get CPD credentials as a freelancer sponsored by a local radio station for the past three months. Still don’t have them. I’ve kept a log of all my contacts with the police and right now my application is in but I’m waiting to have my picture taken sometime–at first I was told December, but now it’s looking more like February. It’s really uncertain because they have been so unresponsive. 
  • I’ve filed several FOIAs and have had good luck w/getting info’ 
  • I’ve had several recent experiences asking Chicago Public Schools communications officials for information. They’ve told me to FOIA for the info. I then FOIA–a request that goes to the CPS Law office rather than the CPS communications office–and get responses saying my FOIA is too broad or I’m asking for info that isn’t compiled by the district, etc. 
  • I’ve only filed one FOIA request, and it was pretty straightforward. Required a lot of work on the part of the person providing the info as she was the only one working on the request, and she worked parttime. 
  • I am an editor for a multinational tax and legal publisher and, as such, deal only with U.S. federal issues. My professional licenses, business card, reputation and connections have always enabled me to access any information necessary to do my job. 
  • I am an editor so many of these questions no longer apply directly to me, but my experience generally is that many local governments conduct public business in private and that most agencies regularly ask for extensions and generally try to stall rather than obey FOIA from the start. I once had to appeal a FOIA denial and then threaten to write a story about the denial and the Secretary of State at the time refusing to provide drunken driving records before I got the documents I had requested. 
  • I cover DePaul athletics on a part-time basis and credentials are usually provided to me. I have yet to experience any road blocks in terms of press credentials. 
  • I do get invitations to ethnic press conferences, meetings, and events and am able to gain access with the invitation. In my type of work, I have not needed press credentials to do my job to date. 
  • I don’t cover breaking news. I contact conference organizers or press liaisons and tell them I’m with ChicagoTalks and then they generally let me come and interview speakers or sit in on sessions. 
  • I don’t have any. 
  • I don’t usually work on local stories. I filed Freedom of Information requests years ago. 
  • I filed multiple requests to Chicago Public Schools to be allowed in school lunchrooms to see what students are being fed and how much of it they are eating and on most occasions our requests are ignored or deferred until our deadline runs out. Colleagues have also been similarly barred from seeing what our taxpayer dollars are feeding our children. For weeks now I have been requesting information on lunch consumption levels among CPS students that the CPS PIO, Monique Bond, has been promising every week and not delivering. Perhaps if I FOIA them, she will actually produce them. She also has not granted our request to go into schools to see how the kids like the food. CPS has been bad about sharing public information but never worse than it has been under Ron Huberman and PIO Monique Bond who has remained there despite Huberman’s departure. Under her we have been told certain information doesn’t exist in addition to flat out lies like ‘You can visit a school because the school year is over,’ when my children happened to be in school that day. It’s astounding. 
  • I find that when I am working on a television documentary program for Public Television I often run up against many barriers. This was not the case when I worked for local and network broadcast newscasts and TV news magazine programs. 
  • I FOIA’d the number of people who died of heroin overdoses in Cook County, and after waiting 2 weeks with no response, I started to nag the Medical Examiner about it. Finally, I was faxed a long, list of names with difficult to understand explanations about their deaths. No one was very cooperative in helping me understand it. 
  • I had to cover bond court on a recent Saturday at 16th and California. Colleagues told me I should be admitted if I just showed my Tribune ID, but I didn’t have that. I showed a business card and it did the trick. 
  • I have always found my workplace identification badge to be sufficient to gain entry. 
  • I have attended trustee meetings for the University of Illinois and press conferences for the University of Illinois 
  • I have been disappointed to find the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor only responds to my occasional inquiries about 50% of the time. The AG’s office was instrumental in getting documents on one occasion but has failed to respond on other occasions…and I work for a major local news organization. My fear is that if the AG’s Public Access Office has this response record to major news organizations…the ‘little guy’ might not get much help. I’ve also discovered the FBI’s response time to FOIA requests far exceeds what is allowed by law. When I inquire about delays…I’m told the problem is in Washington and the locals can’t help expedite. 
  • I have been trying since May 2010 to get the U.S. Treasury Department to fulfill a FOIA request. At first, they were quite responsive and had a person who got back to me by phone and email to let me know the request was being processed. He told me in August 2010 that the material would come ‘very soon.’ Now it is almost February 2011 and I have only received one tiny portion of the information I requested, and that was actually not relevant. They have stopped responding to me, except to send a letter from the ‘director of disclosure services’ that the appropriate person would contact me. Since then I’ve heard nothing. 
  • I have had a very difficult time receiving federal FOIA documents because I often work for a small magazine that does not have a great deal of power to sue for the information. I have had to work around that difficulty. 
  • I have had positive experiences attending village board meetings in Grayslake, Illinois. None of the officials have requested to see my Patch business card when I introduce myself as a reporter with grayslake.patch.com. I have not yet needed to file a FOIA as the village’s website makes all its documents public and easily accessible. 
  • I have not had much experience in these fields. I worked mostly as a sports journalist and getting credentials in that arena does not require one to jump through as many hoops as it does when dealing with law enforcement or public safety. 
  • I have noticed that since Sept. 11, 2001, local law enforcement and fire departments have used ‘homeland security’ as an excuse to deny common access to crime or fire scenes. seems an abuse of power to me. I was threatened by both CPD and CFD at a train crash scene even when I was approx. 200 yards from the actual site. Felt like official bullying. 
  • I once asked a school superintendent for information related to a construction project that the school board had discussed in an open meeting. He said the documents were ‘working documents’ and not for the public yet. I filed FOIA request which angered him but the board’s attorney instructed him to give me the files because they had been discussed in open session. 
  • I once had a Cook County sheriff officer who was working the Markham courthouse ask if I was a student. When I said no, he told he I could not take notes on the court hearing, which I was covering for my newspaper. When I said I was press, he said only students can take notes. I ignored him. I figured if he got more pushy, I would cause a stir (meaning I would loudly plead my case as a working journalist) and get the judge’s attention. It did not come to that. 
  • I only used FOIA once and that was with the Wilmette police dept. concerning a girls basketball player’s relative’s arrest report. Otherwise, I don’t use it. But I have had to show my driver’s license when I pick up credentials from the Big Ten conference and from certain events. 
  • I really don’t have any examples since I spend all of my time in the studio anchoring news provided by our reporters and network sources. Only once back in 1968 I was told to turn my tape recorder off when I was out traveling with the Army National Guard during the Martin Luther King Assassination and visited a Chicago Police station. 
  • I recently requested documents from the city of Chicago Budget and Management office related to the parking meter lease. After weeks of the PIO putting me off, I appealed the matter to the AG’s public access counselor. I received the documents a day later. I then made it clear to city PIOs that I would appeal to public access counselor each and every time five days had passed without results. Delays have pretty much disappeared. 
  • I recently submitted a FOIA to the Chicago Police Department, seeking the police report for an officer involved in a DUI-related car accident that resulted in deaths. I was denied most of the paperwork 
  • I remember being a copy editor at a suburban newspaper and going out after work with a group of coworkers to a local bar/restaurant. We accidentally sat next to a quorum of the suburban city’s council. The members of the board were openly discussing city business. After a few members of our group pointedly cleared our throats and loudly discussed the Open Meetings Act, the board members shushed each other. One council member said the matter wasn’t appropriate for outside of a meeting. 
  • I typically expect to be denied requests, finding most record-keepers very conservative about what they deem open. State officials seem desperately overwhelmed and unable to help with certain responses. Suburban police agencies are the worst. Evanston, Waukegan and North Chicago rarely return calls, for example. 
  • I wanted to interview the Bourbonnais School District superintendent regarding the district’s spending. I went into an office and he turned on a tape recorder apparently thinking he was intimidating me. 
  • I was almost denied access to a mayoral press conference because I did not have press credentials. I was assigned to produce a video profile of a journalist. The only reason I got into the conference was because the journalist I was profiling got us in. 
  • I wrote a story in 2006 or 2007 about Triton College (River Grove) routinely starting scheduled meetings 20 to 75 minutes late, after going into executive session without first convening a public session and voting to go into closed session. 
  • If difficulty arises, persistence pays off. 
  • Illinois is a closed state. I had Illinois atty general’s freedom of information office intervene twice for public records. I can’t believe cook county medical examiner won’t release a cause of death when the investigation is pending. a homicide investigation doesn’t have bearing on the cause of death. I was denied my foia without a reason. When the state got involved, i still didn’t get the records but the agency was forced to give me a reason. another time the Chicago housing authority was taking it’s slow, sweet time with records–past the deadline. i sent an email that cc’d the atty general office. I got the info that day from cha. 
  • In 2007, I had a frustrating experience with the city of Berwyn, trying to get police reports related to a teacher’s conviction on sexual misconduct charges. They dragged their feet for a long time and, though I said that having names of victims redacted was fine, they told me they could not provide such sensitive documents. I asked or the assistance of Lisa Madigan’s representative who helps with FOIA requests. In the end, however, my employer would have had to spend $3,000 or more in court costs to push the matter. My editors decided that the story could be written without the documents. But they would have been helpful. 
  • In 2009, I filed FOIA request on the quality of care at several Chicago-area emergency rooms. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services replied over a year after my request–long after my article had been printed. 
  • In a perfect world, I’d rather not submit the kind of info the Chicago cops require for an ID and some time I didn’t bother. They require your home address, for one. But that ID is the only sure-fire way behind the line at emergencies and fires, as well as in court at times. Anybody, for example, can sit in at many Criminal Courts trials, but seating is limited or if you want to sit up close, for example in the empty jury box–because hearing can be impossible back behind the glass–you’d better have that police ID. So now I get the cops’ ID. 
  • In more than 20 years as a journalist, I haven’t experienced a noteworthy situation involving my credentials or access to public materials or meetings. 
  • In my experience with FOI requests in Chicago and Illinois, I have almost always found appropriate personal information redacted from reports when it comes to citizen info (accident reports, etc). Recently, I had a FOI fulfilled by a municipality in Florida and it was chock full of personal information, including phone numbers of accident victim relatives. We were surprised. 
  • In my experience, I have found the mere mention of possibly using a FOIA request to be sufficient enough. The one time I did issue an official FOIA request was while reporting for a paper in Missouri. I made numerous requests to a police department regarding a specific report, all of which were denied. I then typed up an official FOIA request under Missouri law (Sunshine) and faxed it over. I received the requested report the next day, with apologies from the chief. 
  • In my experience, I have not had to deal with this yet. 
  • In one recent case, I was seeking access to a unit of the Chicago Police Department for a ride-along story, and the officers were willing–even eager–but I had to get permission from the press/media relations person and he stonewalled me. 
  • It’s just not something that’s at all central to what I do any longer 
  • It is extremely difficult to obtain information about such things as Chicago schools and parks. Reporters are directed to the ‘communications offices,’ which then have to research to find answers. Sometimes, the offices oblige. Other times, they don’t. And it never is quick. 
  • It is often common that the general public is allowed closer access to CPD crime scenes than reporters. Anyone carrying professional video gear is restricted when people with camera phones are not. 
  • It was disappointing that the Legislature passed the law saying performance reviews of public officials could not be foia’d. A city manager was apparently fired, and we could not know why. The city must pay her $80,000, and the severance contract forbids anyone from talking about it. It seems when a department head or city manager/administrator leaves performance reviews should be made public. 
  • It was through a FOIA request that we were able to track admissions abuses at the University of Illinois’ flagship campus. We received more than 2,000 pages of documents in response to a series of FOIA requests that spanned threefour months. 
  • It would be nice if the CPD would quit changing its mind and setting arbitrary last minute deadlines for applying for credentials or having you reapply because it changed its procedure. It would be great to have a trade website that explains FOIA and state records laws to journalists, especially young ones. 
  • Most of my career has been as an editor, but I have had to know how to obtain press credentials, FOIAs, etc to be able to instruct reporters, especially less experienced ones. 
  • Most of my municipal government experience is in the Chicago suburbs. These communities often require FOIA requests for everything these days. It never ceases to amaze the hoops you have to jump through to get public information, including closed meeting minutes and police reports. In Oak Brook I remember receiving the document requested from the police department, with most of the information BLOCKED OUT. Lame. 
  • My anecdote is that as a stringer for a newspaper I was assigned to cover Cook County government. After 6 mos. of attending meetings and being assigned one of the coveted four desks for coverage of the Co. Bd. mtgs. a TV reporter showed up one day. She demanded I be kicked out of the press area because I didn’t have a press pass. I told her to take a hike and the sheriffs supported my right to be there. I still don’t have a press pass. Take a pill lady. 
  • My biggest problem as a Traffic Anchor is obtaining and/or confirming traffic incident info in a timely manner from suburban police agencies. Many times when a crash happens during the morning rush hour, and I call for information, I’m told to call back after 9:00 am to talk to a supervisor! That does me no good when I need to tell viewers what’s going on NOW, not 2 hours after the fact! 
  • My Chicago Police Department press credentials seem to do the trick whenever I’m out reporting. I’ve never had a problem gaining access to any meetings, crime scenes, fires, plane crashes, etc. I have never filed a FOI request, so I don’t know about that. 
  • My last CPD credential was from 2001-02, 40 pounds ago. Through early 2008, on the rare occasions when I needed access to a restricted area (though nothing more restrictive than an elevator to a stadium press box), my media company’s card usually was sufficient. Today, a near-generic business card and/or a ‘PRESS PRESSE PRENSA’ card issued by my professional-member organization works nearly as well–but again, we’re not talking crime scenes or government records here. 
  • My main experience is in going to public meetings. I’ve never had an access problem. 
  • My own perverse opinion is that FOI is a crutch for reporters who lack the skills to develop sources. 
  • no examples for Illinois. sorry. 
  • none 
  • not relevant 
  • On Feb. 22, 2011, one of THE GATE Newspaper reporters was trying to access a precinct located in the 03 Ward- Back of the Yards. Unlike other precincts, the judges refused to give a voter count because the reporter didn’t have press credentials. 
  • On one group investigative piece, I submitted a FOIA request to an employee of the City of Chicago’s Department of Community Development, regarding the TIF program. I received a response in a timely fashion and received the information within 5 days. There was some information missing, but when I brought that to the attention of the employee, they found what I needed and got it to me quickly. 
  • One insane experience that I had recently is that the Chicago Public Schools published rates concerning something that happens often in the schools. I asked for the raw numbers used to create the rates, which were based on a complicated formula. After months of going back and forth, they said the person who created the rates no longer worked there and they couldn’t re-create the raw numbers. Then, I asked them why raw numbers published by the Illinois State Board of Education that were supposed to capture the same situation were different. Someone from CPS law called ISBE and convinced them to make that report unavailable online, rather than try to figure out why their numbers were so vastly different. Luckily, I had already downloaded. 
  • Our newspaper covers only Evanston. Often when the City Council goes into closed session, I wait to hear the motion to make certain that they close the meeting properly. 
  • Please remind folks that the Attorney General’s public access counselor is effective and helpful. They recently intervened on a request with the city that had dragged on for three weeks. 
  • Press credentials mean nothing at many crime and fire scenes. You are at the mercy of the officer in charge and many times journalists, especially those with cameras, are kept farther from the scene than the general public. 
  • Press Credentials seem to get you on the rizer, about 50ft. back when the President is in town. Then the traveling media or National media covering a Presidential event get to shoot photos close to the President. Knowing that, we still wait our chance and shoot when the President is near. We still get good acceptable photos if the President comes down off the podium and into the crowd. Also a rope-line where the president shakes hands is a good chance for photos with or without credentials. 
  • Public agencies never fill a FOIA in 5 days. I’d recommend if they don’t fill it in 10 days, they’ve broken the law. 
  • Re: FOIA and the city of Chicago: No request to any city agency is ever fulfilled on time, and every single one is passed along to the mayor’s press secretary and disseminated among other city officials before it’s fulfilled. 
  • Several times, suburban police agencies have refused information and reports when it involved police misconduct, and these reports had to be FOIA’d or the AG’s office called in. 
  • Since I am a news producer, whenever we need a FOIA request our assignment desk or reporter submits a request for it, so I don’t have to do it. I field produce very little but when I do, I have gone to public meetings and have not had a problem, keep in mind that I am with a cameraman and we both carry our work id’s. I do know that all our photographers and reporters need to carry their press credentials at all times. I currently do not have one, but do carry my expired press card. 
  • Since the new Freedom of Information Act has taken effect in Illinois, certain agencies are quite proactive in reaching out to reporters they know to be ‘beat’ reporters when other reporters FOIA certain information, to make sure you are ‘on the list.’ I’d never seen that before. Metra and the McHenry County Sheriff’s Police have been especially helpful in that area. 
  • Sometimes–and in the online journalism era, this has been happening to me as a freelancer a bit more frequently–a pitch or proposal will be accepted by a publication (& I write for many locally). I will identify myself, on phone or in person or online as a freelance journalist working for such-&-such publication. However, owing to some reason(s) or another, that publication–usually without a contract, so without a kill fee–will decline to publish, or demand wholesale rewrite changes that may hardly be worth my time & money to do, especially if the topic is time-sensitive–you have to move on. So then I just find another place to publish it, more often than not a website or other online entity, meaning that I had originally been disingenuous to original interviewees. Sometimes I try to call them back to explain–but not always. 
  • Sometimes security can be too lax. With just a camera & photographer, I talked my way into an operation at a major medical center in Chicago. The surgeon was expecting me, but normally you don’t get thru the various ‘gates’ without being accompanied by hospital public relations personnel. That morning, the PR person forgot to show up. I knew enough about the layout not to have to ask anyone any questions, so as to appear as though I was authorized to be there. 
  • The Brookfield Zoo, which receives millions of dollars from taxpayers, claims it isn’t subject to the FOIA because the other half of its money is private 
  • The Chicago police department went way past the FOI deadline despite repeated requests. They told me they only had one person processing requests at that time and couldn’t comply with FOI deadlines. Eventually, they denied my request improperly. Eventually, they produced a tiny fraction of what was requested, saying they didn’t track the data in the way requested, though I knew for certain they did collect that data. It took months, and i never got all my data, nor did i get the required written response stating why. 
  • The Chicago Sun-Times is making use ID’s as we speak. Don’t think management knows fingerprinting request was repealed. When on assignment I used my Police Press card (which expired years ago when the fingerprinting issue began). It’s important to have a Police Press Pass. You need to pass through lines to get a story… 
  • The City of Chicago and its Police Department are very bad about releasing crime data in a way that allows news organizations to compare crime trends over time. They essentially give snapshots but don’t provide figures from previous periods in any useful way. 
  • The FOIA process is extremely slow. City, county and state officials do their best to obfuscate and make it as difficult to obtain information as possible. 
  • The Illinois Senate has now begun requiring press passes to gain access to its press box. They do not allow the press or public to use smart phones in the chamber, even though members of the Senate openly can be seen doing so. There also were attempts to bar a reporter from texting during a Senate committee hearing. 
  • The New Illinois FOIA law is fantastic. More emphasis should be put on making sure that local officials are aware of the law, and on making sure journalists and the public know how to use it. For example, many journalists I know think you have to fill out a form in order to make a FOIA request. Under the new Illinois law, any request in writing, including via email, suffices to trigger the requirement that they respond within 5 days. 
  • The old Chicago Police Department press credential was very handy not just to cross police and fire department lines to cover stories, but as a credential for all manner of stories and contacts both in the region, around the country and even overseas. I miss it. 
  • The people I must interview for freelance purposes either trust that I am who I say I am and talk to me, or not. 
  • The staff of the Loyola Phoenix has had a difficult year with the Campus Safety office turning over crime reports in a timely fashion, and also in their fullest state. After a few articles that offended them toward the beginning of the year we believe they have withheld some of the more alarming crimes, such as sexual assaults on campus, from us in their crime reports. We do not have any way to be sure this is true though, but it does seem likely because in the past we were always sent the crime reports in an e-mail addressed to us and other ‘members of the cabinet’ such as the president but once in a while we get the crime reports e-mailed just to us and the file will say ‘supplemental.’ We plan on discussing this in person with them soon. Otherwise as college students we often have a difficult time talking to a lot of people, in particular the Chicago Police Department (we can usually get all the info we need but they are very stubborn about it and it can take multiple phone calls) and the Chicago Transit Authority. 
  • The state Attorney General’s office has been extremely useful in providing opinions that persuade the city of Chicago to release information that was previously denied. 
  • The two institutions I’ve had the most trouble dealing with over the year are CPD and CPS. The former, I expect there to be resistance. There always has been. But I’m continually astonished at the sense from CPD that it’s them against the world. Under Huberman, CPS was actually worse than CPD. Access was virtually impossible. Getting simple questions answered was laborious (it felt almost purposefully so.) These may be the two most vital public institutions in Chicago, and should be as open and straight with the public as they can without of course compromising their own work. 
  • there have been instances, pertaining to police agencies, where company-issued credentials were not considered sufficient to cross police lines, but they have been rare 
  • There is a HUGE difference in municipalities’ responses. In my experience as an editor leading reporters, I know that I can file a request with Naperville online and get a dated receipt. The answer to the request is always quick, thorough and courteous. We rarely have to file FOIAs with Naperville, though, because nearly everything is available online (including indexed tapes of council meetings). However, Cicero will give us NOTHING without a FOIA. They’ve even told us to file FOIAs for a document the council members discussed in a public meeting. They typically wait until the end of the waiting period, then request an extension. Then at the very end of the extension, they deny it. 
  • There is one right now: Judge James Zagel’s patently absurd policies on jurors in the upcoming Rod Blagojevich trial. He wants to embargo release of jurors’ names for 24 hours, he actively discourages jurors from talking to reporters, and says he may give them no trespassing signs for their lawns. FREQUENTLY we are confronted with police, public officials, private guards, who try to restrict our access for no reason whatsoever. ‘Security’ is the number one reason given. ‘Privacy’ comes second. 
  • This requires two anecdotes. First: Current CPD press credentials have been ‘extended’ since their expiration date of March 31, 2009 until now. They now have a bottleneck in processing renewals and have told me (and my colleagues) that we will receive ‘a call.’ Second: Chicago Board of Education officials have created a new document, at great expense, in place of the public document listing all employees and other information. The traditional document (called the ‘Position File’) was the basic computer document with all budget and employee information, with only the Social Security number redacted. The ‘new’ document, which they called the ‘Position Roster’, has taken out most of the key budget information and inserted a new data set that is not part of the information (the ‘union’ of which each employee is a member). This expensive modification of a document I have been receiving under FOIA for more than 20 years was done during the administration of Ron Huberman as CEO of CPS. 
  • Too often requests for information are delayed and then only partial information is released requiring further requests for information and more delays. In cases involving law enforcement, more often than not police agencies refuse to release information claiming it is a pending investigation even if the investigation was completed years ago and there is really no active investigation. In fact, a FOI request is often likely to spur ‘an investigation’ simply as a ploy to deny an FOI request. 
  • tried to get results of security tests on nuclear facilities and got the run around….not even sure if it’s public record….but I think there would be a way to release some info. 
  • Twice have been denied information from local agency. Appeal made to public access counselor. One successful; one pending. 
  • We’ve been fighting with the CPD for five months for data they have bragged about in their own newsletter yet has variously contended that it doesn’t exist, it’s confidential, it’s not in a database despite saying so, and so forth. We’ve been passed up and down the chain in the Department of Professional Standards and sent to News Affairs and back again, it’s a total joke. The denials we have received have had nothing to do with what we’ve actually requested; similarly the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has been nothing less than a bunch of lying bastards in our requests for related data. Only the Cook County Circuit Court has been cooperative. 
  • We are a small newspaper, so while we would do more of these if we had time, we end up doing very few. If we had an agency that helped us it would mean we could do more. 
  • We had a lot of trouble getting into the juvenile prisons in Illinois. We were given the run around by the director of the department of juvenile justice and then later Gov. Pat Quinn. After several stories on the issue we were granted access, though that was still fairly restricted. 
  • we had the press credentials two years ago through the Police Department at 35 street. But since then, we have problem to obtain the press credentials. Please let me know how can we obtain our press credentials again? 
  • We have had good experiences with most government agencies. Most comply with the law in a timely manner. And when they do not, it is usually a result of an ongoing criminal matter or personnel matter. 
  • We need a workshop that teaches us how to go about the list of questions provided in this survey. 
  • We recently tried to find out of minority contractors were benefiting from federal stimulus dollars awarded in Illinois. We made requests through the Illinois Department of Transportation. We found that very little was going to women and minority owned business. 
  • We requested the 911 calls from the night of the Blizzard…and then we were told they were too many of them and we needed to refine our search to a specific time period. We did that and now we are still waiting for those tapes. 
  • When I went to village hall of a large and generally well-run northwest suburb to examine records related to my own house and as a test for how my students might be received, the building-zoning clerks’ responses were in both cases to shove an FOI request form at me. One refused to answer my questions about whether they might still have the record in that office or when I might expect a response. The other said, ‘It depends.’ After I completed the form, each said to come check after five business days. I tried again at another department and got the same response. It was apparent that the organizational culture–or policy–was to treat the maximum wait as a minimum. I gave my students a different public-records assignment: Go to a different town, visit the county clerk’s elections office, or examine official property records online. Guess what they all did? 
  • When I worked at the Daily Journal in Kankakee, we tried unsuccessfully to get information from the Kankakee County Sherriff’s Department on a cold murder case, where it turned out the remains of the victims were stored on a shelf at the department for several years before the family was notified the body had been recovered. 
  • when successful, information gained under a Freedom of Information request has played a significant impact on my reporting 
  • When the CPD began requiring fingerprints for credentials, the entire staff, at the urging of the publisher at the time, decided to forego renewing CPD press passes. 
  • When working as a stringer for the Trib I was given limited access to tunnel glass time by a local professional hockey team due to my being a ‘still photographer’. However male photographers were not limited in glass time. For every game I had to arrange for a 12’space of glass with the team photog and if he changed his mind and showed up I lost it. For this and other reasons I no longer cover this franchise. 
  • While working on a possible documentary for A&E, I requested a federal FOI on a late Chicago individual who was believed to be an advisor to the Mafia’s Sam Giancana. I was denied by the government with the explanation that the info was still classified as the person was still under investigation. I never was provided the data but the person’s son finally obtained it and provided me with a copy. It was so filled with black-outs (of the names, dates, suspected activity, etc.,) that it was illegible. 
  • With some degree of regularity, our Chicago police issued press credentials do not allow us closer access to crime scenes than that afforded the general public. There have been many occasions with the public–carrying cell phones or other smaller cameras–are not stopped from taking pictures when identifiable credentialed TV and newspaper photographers are. We have had meetings with the city on this and have an improved understanding on where we can go and where we wish to go when covering a story. Police, fire and other responders are too often too interested in confining news people to staging areas to control the flow of information. While we appreciate a central location for briefings, a staging area is not typically where the story is. Because of life post 9-11, and the federal National Incident Management Strategy approach, reporters are quite frequently kept unreasonably and artificially far from the stories we are attempting to cover. Because of our meetings, and protestations, the city has, I believe, not been quite so rigid of late, but we’ll see what happens over the long haul. 
  • Years ago I attended a School Board meeting at New Trier high school. During that meeting, I realized the board members had been communication via email. I knew this was a violation of the Open Meetings Act and wrote about it. New Trier then changed their policy regarding communication between board members to comply with Open Meetings Act. 


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