Improving journalists’ access to public information records

The City of Philadelphia has a transparency problem impacting its newsrooms. Though Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know (RTK) Law is designed to promote access to official government information, practical and logistical issues stymie journalists seeking public records for investigative stories. 

Press pass on a table surrounded by paperwork.

With limited or no training, news media professionals have had to learn to navigate an opaque and unpredictable bureaucratic system in which delays and denials are the only routine part of the process. To make matters worse, many local and state news outlets face continued economic uncertainty, compounding the difficulty journalists face in dealing with unpredictable and labor-intensive methods to access needed information.

A new report from Annenberg’s Media, Inequality and Change Center and the Center for Media at Risk explores the impacts and infrastructure of RTK laws through interviews with 16 Pennsylvania-based journalists. The researchers—doctoral student Muira McCammon and former postdoctoral fellow Daniel Grinberg—consider how local and state bureaucracies have impacted the functioning of contemporary Philadelphia newsrooms.

“Many researchers to date have focused their attention on how journalists use the Freedom of Information Act to access federal documents and data,” says McCammon. “Our work takes a slightly different approach and looks at the strategies local newsrooms leverage to get the facts and figures they need to tell meaningful stories about the City of Philadelphia.”

Read more at Annenberg School for Communication.