How OU's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism helped with the 2014 Ohio public records audit

From the E.W. Scripps School of Journalismby Robert Stewart, Ph.D., Director; Professor

Open record laws play a vital role in allowing journalists to serve the public by shedding light on government activities. The problem is, those laws aren’t always observed by the very government offices that journalists are trying to cover. Periodically, news organizations conduct “audits” to ascertain the degree to which open record laws are (or are not) being obeyed.

Read the results of the audit: Compliance in releasing Ohio public records better, but not perfect (Columbus Dispatch, June 11, 2014)

This past October, Ohio Newspaper Association (ONA) Executive Director Dennis Hetzel emailed our Scripps Howard Visiting Professional, Andy Alexander, about plans for a statewide open records audit. The Ohio Coalition for Open Government, of which ONAis a part, had conducted an audit a decade earlier. It was time for a followup, and Hetzel wanted Andy to take on the role of coordinator.

Andy has long been familiar with such efforts, having helped launch the annual “Sunshine Week” in 2005 for the American Society of News Editors (ASNE).

Andy put together a small coordinating committee consisting of Dennis and several Ohio news executives:

Christine Merritt, President of the Ohio Association of Broadcasters (OAB)

Ben Marrison, Editor of The Columbus Dispatch

Teri Hayt, Executive Editor of GateHouse Ohio Newspapers (Canton Repository and others)

Several faculty members, including Andy, Bill Reader, Aimee Edmondson, and myself, volunteered to work on the audit. Bill had helped with the previous statewide audit and also is an authority on Ohio’s open records laws. He agreed to write up the audit questions and handle much of the training of journalists from throughout the state who would actually request the records. Aimee’s expertise in open records laws and data-driven journalism allowed her to take the lead in crunching and analyzing data from the audit. Before all was said and done, Bill and Aimee had played indispensable roles.

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