Aug 19, 2022 - News

FOIA Friday: End of Deadline's era

Illustration of an unlocked padlock made out of a manila folder.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

As the alt-news site Deadline Detroit prepares to shut down after more than a decade, co-founder Allan Lengel reflects with Axios on public records journalism over the years.

  • Welcome to this week's spotlight on the Freedom of Information Act, which allows citizens to access public data in the spirit of transparency.

What he's saying: "It's a very frustrating process, they try to make you jump through all these hoops," Lengel says. Plus, it can be prohibitively costly.

  • Some of the most unyielding institutions to deal with in terms of FOIA responses have been public universities, he adds.
  • "They do everything to find exceptions to your freedom of information requests."

One potential solution: "It would be great to have even a voluntary commission made up of journalists and academics, or whoever, who could review how these things are being done and see whether the law is being followed," Lengel says.

  • "I think you'd probably find in a lot of instances the laws are not being followed."

The intrigue: Among Deadline's FOIA journalism highlights is an investigation by journalist Violet Ikonomova, who dug into "bad cops" through reviewing more than 10,000 pages of "disciplinary and investigative records obtained through open records requests," per the April article.

  • Records in one of her requests were partially blacked out, or redacted, at first. With the help of a pro-bono attorney, Ikonomova successfully appealed the redactions to uncover more information about officer misconduct.

💭 Joe's thought bubble: Deadline's commitment to accountability journalism will be missed. The feisty publication tackled stories other outlets shied away from.

  • These tough stories often require a dogged pursuit of public records, and Deadline was up to the task.
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