Panel Vows to Fight For Access to Records (The AP Gets It)

An article from Elizabeth M. Gillespie, for the Associated Press, Panel vows to fight for access to records, gets into an issue that is going to be cropping up a lot more as time goes by, access to public records. The article is about the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Freedom of Information Committee, and their fight to keep access open.

She mentions something very interesting (at least coming from a genealogist’ perspective), about how organizations like this, as well as the AP itself, could team up with genealogists. Excerpt from the article:

Newspapers need to find more allies in their fight to get access to public records, since government agencies keep coming up with more ways to keep them secret, a panel of news executives said Thursday.

Decisions to classify government documents rose to roughly 15 million in 2004, the most recent year available, up from about 8 million in 2001, said Andrew Alexander, Cox Newspapers’ bureau chief in Washington, D.C., and chairman of the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Freedom of Information Committee.

At the same time, the government has been denying a growing number of public records requests.

“The Freedom of Information Act seems to be in the throes of a mid-life crisis,” Alexander said.

He suggested the battle could become less daunting if newspapers can forge stronger ties with non-journalist groups that value open access to public records and meetings.

Kathleen Carroll, senior vice president and executive editor of The Associated Press, suggested partnering with genealogy experts, who rely heavily on public records laws to mine historical data.

“We don’t talk to that group of people very well, and they could be very powerful allies,” said Carroll, one of four executives who spoke on a freedom-of-information panel at the ASNE annual meeting.

Last month, Carroll noted, the AP found in a 50-state survey that 616 new laws restricting access to government records, databases, meetings and other public information had been passed since Sept. 11, 2001, while 284 laws had loosened access.

In plenty of cases, panelists noted, governments shut down access to records without any apparent legal backing.

Sounds like Kathleen Carroll (as mentioned above, senior vice president and executive editor of The Associated Press) understands the genealogists have a very vested interest in keeping access to records open, and could be a powerful friend – there are a lot of genealogists in the US and elsewhere, and many are older, a demographic which votes quite a bit more than younger folks.

You can read the full article at:
The Twin Cities/Pioneer Express (MN)
The Star-Telegram (Dallas/Fort Worth)

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