A Reflection on the FIOA Project

I started this FOIA experiment almost 11 weeks ago and have been walking you through every important point in the journey since. I have been documenting the process from the moment I first filed my requests until two weeks ago when I finally received some of the documents I was hoping for, which I showed you in my previous post. While the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Texas still has two days to respond to my FOIA request, I thought I would go ahead and reflect back on this entire process and what it has taught me about being a journalist.

The first lesson I learned is that FOIA requests take a long time. From the moment I filed the requests until I finally got the documents, the process took between eight and nine weeks for the Fort Worth Department of Planning and Development and still has not been concluded for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Therefore, as a journalist, it is important to give these requests ample time to reach their desired result. If you need data for a story and can only receive it through a FOIA request, then it is vital that you make that filing weeks and months in advance in order to allow time for any complications or back and forth communication with the agency about the requested documents.

The second lesson I learned was that these FOIA requests need to be incredibly specific. The complications and set backs I had in this process were all due to lack of specificity and a need for more clarification. These mishaps set my receiving of the documents I requested back several weeks, which could be too late if I had a story on deadline. Therefore, I learned how important it is to be clear, concise and specific in FOIA requests in order to better your chances of receiving the desired information in a timely manner.

Lastly, I learned that no matter the time and effort it takes to make a FOIA request, it is worth it. Receiving the documents and seeing concrete numbers and information that I would not have otherwise known showed me how important and beneficial data can be for an article. As I mentioned in my last post, numbers are the perfect supplementary information to a story to give it both relevance and credibility for the reader. Specific data can also put mere ideas into a concrete form that is easier for readers to picture and understand. Lastly, FOIA requests can give journalists information that people would not readily disclose on their own accord. However, since it is our right as citizens to know, we can find that information and educate ourselves on the issues at hand.

Therefore, this FOIA project has been incredibly beneficial and enlightening to me as a journalist. FOIA requests are something I will continue to use in my future articles and other writings, because I believe I have only barely scratched the surface of the possibilities of exercising this constitutional right as a citizen of the United States of America. There is so much information rightly available to us. All we have to do is ask for it.

What To Do With the Information You Actually Get

It has been 18 business days since I refiled FOIA requests to the Fort Worth Department of Planning and Development and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Texas. I have yet to receive any response from the U.S. Attorney’s Office regarding my request. However, I did get the documents I requested from the Fort Worth Department of Planning and Development about all building permits filed by Texas Christian University concerning the Worth Hills Building located at the address 3504 Pond Drive, Fort Worth, TX 76109, in the Worth Hills area of TCU’s campus. Just three days after making the request, the files were electronically delivered via email as asked. In the email, the department’s representative graciously relayed that while they have the right to charge a fee for the documents, I was not charged any money for their retrieval and delivery.

In response to my FOIA request, I received 34 pages worth of documents showing six different building permit filings by TCU. Four of these filings were made on October 24, 2012, and the other two were much more recent requests made on June 6, 2014. Of the October filings, one was for a demolition and remodeling of the existing building for $10,000, another for a construction addition to the existing building for a mechanical plant for $4,584,717 and the last two were for the construction of a cooling tower equalling $585,000. Therefore, the proposed total cost of this 2012 project was $5,179,717. You could use this information in an article about TCU’s past growth and how they are using their money on construction. You could also highlight what the specific remodeled aspects of the building were, or you could even write a story on the proposed cost of construction versus the actual cost of construction and how that is consistent or unusual for TCU’s other building projects across campus.

In the June 6, 2014, building permit filings, one document showed the plans for a remodeling of the data center proposed to equal $6,200,000, and the other concerned the construction of a fence and installation of generators for the building expected to reach $1,625,443. Therefore, the total cost of this remodeling project is expected to total a whopping $7,825,443 for one data center in Worth Hills. Numbers like these could be used as supplementary evidence and data points for an article on TCU’s spending habits with construction projects or campus spending in general. These numbers also seem to suggest, that if TCU is putting forth millions of dollars on a data center, then the rest of Worth Hills must also be receiving quite an upgrade. With more investigation, a reporter could probably find exact building floor plans and the proposed future of the entire Worth Hills area.

While these numbers may not be an article in and of themselves, they would be an incredible resource to supplement the points in an article with concrete data figures and numbers. Every story is made stronger when evidence can be shown for the arguments that are being made, so having exact numbers is one way to provide that evidence and gain credibility with your readers. Although it takes more time to ask for and sort through data such as this, it can add so much to an article and show a side that other people may not have revealed in mere interviews. Plus, your readers will appreciate the hard work and diligence you put into making the story the best it could be. So, take the time to find the numbers, because they may end up being the key to your story.

Attached below are all of the documents I received from the Fort Worth Department of Planning and Development. Please feel free to look through them and come to your own conclusions. Enjoy!

Fort Worth Department of Planning and Development documents