Columbia Journalism Review: Big tech’s bid to control FOIA

IT WAS WHISPERED like some secret oracle: Sidecat, sidecat is coming.

Negotiations over the tax incentive deal began in Ohio in early spring of last year, and only a cabal of quasi-state officials were in the know. Even after the $37.1 million in incentives were approved by state officials on July 31, 2017, the company was only referred to in a press release as Sidecat, a provider of “information technology services, such as remotely accessed computing power and data storage.” 

It wasn’t until nearly two weeks after the deal went through that The Columbus Dispatch uncovered that “Sidecat” was actually a code name for Facebook. After getting a tip from another reporter in the newsroom, Mark Williams, a business reporter, confirmed the information with anonymous sources, then went to officials at JobsOhio, the state’s privatized development entity, who wouldn’t confirm, either. “They were just continuing to wait,” Williams says. “At that point, you are shaking your head. What’s the big secret?”

Four days later, Ohio Governor John Kasich, at a symbolic groundbreaking in front of a banner bearing the Facebook logo, at  last confirmed Sidecat’s true identity. Ironically, the deal to lure the social media giant to my home state of Ohio was hammered out earlier in the summer, as Kasich’s administration worked to plug a nearly $1 billion shortfall in the Rust Belt state’s budget. At the press conference in mid-August, flanked by dignitaries awkwardly holding shovels, Kasich hailed the deal as a step toward diversifying Ohio’s manufacturing-heavy economy with high-tech jobs. Read more…