The News & Observer: The Freedom of Information Act isn’t just for journalists. Here’s how you can use it too.

If you follow The News & Observer’s investigative stories, you’ve probably seen this phrase: “a Freedom of Information Act request” or “obtained through a public records request.

Those requests are made through what’s known as FOIA — journalists pronounce it “FOY-ah” — and refer to laws that govern public information.

While news reporters are some of the most prolific users of these laws, they’re definitely not just for journalists. Here’s how you can get access to the same treasure trove of data and records.

First, decide exactly what information you want. The more specific the description, the more successful your request will be. For example, instead of asking for “a list of school employee salaries,” ask for “Wake County school administrator base salaries in the 2017-18 school year.” 

What can you ask for? State and federal laws list what’s considered “public record” and also list exemptions. (In some states, the list of exemptions is quite extensive.) Here’s some FOIA information used by journalists to write some important news stories. And here are some unusual FOIA requests. Want more examples? UNC publishes all of the requests they receive. (Read more…)