How to Actually Act on the Freedom of Information Act

In my Mass Communication Law and Ethics class, we are learning about the Freedom of Information Act and how to actually ask for the information we need as journalists. There is an abundant array of data accessible by law to the general public, and all it takes is a simple “please” in order to get that information. Well, it’s actually a little bit more complicated than that considering there are formal requests that have to be made in a certain structure and rules concerning various information that is off limits. But, in the simplest explanation possible, all it takes is asking in order to get data that could not only give writers story ideas, but could also change the way we view reporting and information gathering as a whole.

Therefore, in order to put this right into action and view the process of FOI requests firsthand, I am going to file two different FOI requests. Throughout the process, I will analyze which one is answered, how much information I actually receive and investigate ways to utilize that information in order to better supplement a story or begin a whole new article.

The first requests focuses on information solely concerning my school and the neighborhoods surrounding the university. In this FOI request, I will ask for all building permit requests and any other development applications and forms submitted by Texas Christian University to the Fort Worth department of Planning and Development from January 2012 to present. I hope to use the requested information to analyze any unreleased, future development plans for Texas Christian University’s campus. The requested material would show where the building would be located and its proposed use. After receiving such information, I could investigate more into the impact any expansion or development would have on the surrounding neighborhoods, zoning expansions or university spending and talk to TCU administrators about the building plans.

The second request impacts a larger community and might be harder information to gather due to its content. In this FOI request, I will ask The United States Attorney’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas for reports documenting human trafficking victims rescued in the Dallas-Fort Worth area since the formation of the North Texas Anti-Trafficking Taskforce in 2005. I would then compare those numbers to the number of human trafficking victims rescued in the DFW area between 1995 and 2004. In light of the recent surge of undocumented children migrating through Texas, I would also like to ask for reports of those rescued victims who were unaccompanied children that had crossed the Texas-Mexico border. I hope to analyze how the number immigrant children and the rise or fall in human trafficking reports are correlated.

These two stories are obviously quite different and embody a range of information. Therefore, it will be interesting to see how each request is handled similarly or differently than the other and why those correlations occur. I look forward to witnessing how freely information actually flows despite our constitutional rights as journalists and citizens. Until then, however, we wait.

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