But in the last several years, this struggle has taken on new dimensions, particularly for newspapers dealing with access issues. The speed and breadth of the Internet, growth of the privacy movement and developing information technologies have added new layers of complexity.
With this in mind, the American Society of Newspaper Editors has launched a two-year project to develop strategies for dealing with the changing FOI landscape.
Working with the First Amendment Center, ASNE’s Freedom of Information Committee spent the last year studying these topics, researching the commercialization of public records and conducting a national opinion poll and a survey of newspaper editors across the country.
The results of this work will be presented at ASNE’s convention next month in Washington, D.C. We’ll then start on the second phase of this project, developing strategies in three main categories:
How newspapers believe governments should handle the digital information challenges. This will include how freedom of information guidelines should apply across the government’s new digital landscape, a push for openness for electronic records, views on the government sale of public records, and recommendations for model legislation on these several fronts.
How newspapers can do a better job with digital FOI issues. This will include writing a policy statement on privacy, developing recommendations for newspaper Web sites to provide more access, and providing new ideas for FOI advocacy in an electronic world.
The committee will collect the views of newspaper leadership on these questions over the summer, review the work of other FOI groups on these topics, and put together a draft strategy to be debated and revised at an FOI summit scheduled for Sept. 28-29 in Washington.
A final version will be ready for ASNE’s 2002 convention. When it is complete, we
hope the strategy will work on two levels: helping individual newspapers of every size navigate these challenges, and helping the newspaper industry take the offensive in confronting these issues.
Anders Gyllenhaal is executive editor at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., and chairs ASNE’s Freedom of Information Committe.