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FOIA Fest for journalists, activists

How much does CPS spend on standardized testing?  How is the CHA spending federal subsidies it’s getting for housing units that it’s failed to occupy?  What’s happened to the clients of mental health clinics that were closed?  Which schools are losing students to urban violence?

With journalistic resources increasingly strapped, there’s “a lot of untapped potential” among community groups and activists to get information using the Freedom of Information Act, according to Steve Franklin, president of the Headline Club (and director of the Ethnic News Project at Community Media Workshop).

Along with journalists, organizations and individuals challenging cutbacks in education, housing and human services, and those working on violence and criminal justice and many other issues, are among the potential audience for the Headline Club’s FOIA Fest, a series of evening programs taking place this Monday through Wednesday, Franklin said.

Monday, March 11, 6 to 8 p.m., Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association will speak at an opening reception at Columbia’s journalism department, 33 E. Congress, second floor.  Along with its own investigations, BGA regularly holds FOIA clinics as well as trainings for “citizen watchdogs” and “education watchdogs.”

BGA is also partnering with the Headline Club on its effort to protect and improve reporters’ freedom of information rights, including a clearinghouse for information at

Tuesday, March 12, 6:45 to 8 p.m., Terry Pastika of the Citizen Advocacy Center will discuss their work providing legal support to efforts to increase civic involvement, including support for FOIA requests.  The group offers open government trainings for journalists and citizens.  Their guide to filing FOIA requests is here.

Also participating Tuesday are Joe Germuska of Northwestern’s Knight Lab and Dan O’Neil of Smart Chicago Collaborative, exploring ways technology can improve access to public records.  That event is also at Columbia’s journalism department.

Wednesday, March 13, 6 to 8 p.m., features leading investigative journalists — NBC5 producer Katy Smyser, Gary Marx and David Jackson of the Chicago Tribune, and WBEZ’s Robert Wildeboer — offering tips and strategies for prying government records loose.

A representative of Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office will also speak.  Wednesday’s program takes place at WBEZ’s community room on Navy Pier.

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Category: democracy, journalism, organizing

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