PUBLIC RECORDS LAWS AND INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM IN PHILADELPHIA
This new report, by Annenberg School for Communication’s Muira McCammon and Daniel Grinberg, examines how Pennsylvania-based journalists grapple with Pennsylvania’s Right to Know (RTK) law.
The City of Philadelphia has a transparency problem impacting its newsrooms. Many studies have overlooked the ways in which Pennsylvania’s Freedom of Information (FOI) laws constrain and empower local media practitioners. To fill in this major gap in scholarship, between October 2018 and January 2019, we conducted 17 interviews with Pennsylvania-based journalists in order to highlight their experiences with Pennsylvania’s Right to Know (RTK) law. This report considers the results that their records requests have yielded and includes a comparative assessment of the RTK law as a mechanism of transparency and accountability. With special consideration to the difficulties that journalists face when they encounter resistance from open-records officers, we ask how journalists telling stories in and around Philadelphia can more effectively optimize the resource of public information in service of investigative reporting. We close by recommending a series of industry and policy reforms in order to ensure its future as a powerful investigative tool in Philadelphia’s newsrooms. This research was co-funded by the Media, Inequality and Change Center (MIC) and the Center for Media at Risk as part of a series on the future of journalism.
Muira McCammon is a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication and a Master’s in Law candidate at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. A former national security reporter, her research interests center on the military, the media, and the evolving relationship between the two. She focuses on government secrecy, the history of deletion, and the future of detention. McCammon incorporates the Freedom of Information Act into her research, practice, and teaching and also regularly gives workshops on how to file records requests. Over the past decade, she has held fellowships at the Sitka Fellows Program, the Harvard Law Library Innovation Lab, and the Turkish Fulbright Commission. Her writings have appeared in VICE, Slate, and elsewhere. Under the auspices of the Beinecke Scholarship, McCammon received an M.A. in Translation Studies from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she wrote her thesis on the history of the Guantánamo Bay Detainee Library.
Daniel Grinberg was the 2018-2019 Center for Media at Risk Postdoctoral Fellow. He received his PhD in the Department of Film and Media Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara in Spring 2018. He holds an M.A. in Communication and Culture from Indiana University and a B.A. in English Literature and Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia. His recent focus is on the intersections of documentary media and Freedom of Information Act disclosures. While in residence at the Center in 2018-2019 Grinberg analyzed how these archival forms mediate public knowledge of covert security and surveillance practices and taught an undergraduate course on Conflict, Risk and Digital Media.