ACCESS: Reporters have no special rights to access records or attend meetings. Laws to know:
- Open Meetings Act. Oklahoma’s law says meetings of public bodies are open to the public. The law requires notice of when meetings will be held and requires agendas to be posted ahead of time. Most university governing boards fall under this act. The law also details when officials can close meetings to consider items like lawsuits, personnel issues and business negotiations.
- Open Records Act. Oklahoma’s law says public records must be available for public inspection and copying during business hours. You cannot be charged more than 25 cents per page for copying. You cannot be required to state a purpose or identify your employer – although many agencies waive search and copy fees when the requester is working in the public interest, as journalists are. Records covered by this act include documents, spreadsheets, databases, photographs, recordings, etc. Many records are exempt, including most personnel records.
- FOIA. The Freedom of Information Act is used to access federal records. Most agencies have moved records online for easy access with no special request. If you file a FOIA request, know the federal government tends to be slower at responding and rejects more than the state.
- FERPA. The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act gives individuals the right to see and challenge their educational records; and protects the privacy of student educational records. It is why OU must redact student names from many otherwise public records journalists may seek. However, many colleges use FERPA as an excuse to hide non-educational records that happen to include student names.
ACCESS AT OU, CITY: Before calling upon OU’s Open Records Office, which is in the NEL Building, Daily staffers should consider the following steps:
- Check with sources to learn what records exist on the subject you’re researching.
- Ask a high-ranking source who holds the records to provide them.
- If that doesn’t work in a timely fashion, contact the university’s Public Affairs office.
- If that doesn’t work in a timely fashion, then submit an open records request to email@example.com. The request should include:
- As precise a description as possible of the record sought
- Date or date range of record
- Location of the record if you know it
- Indicate that you are with The Daily to avoid a search fee.
- For city records, use Norman’s online request form.
SAMPLE OPEN RECORDS REQUEST EMAIL: Pursuant to the state Open Records Act, I request copies of the documents described below. As a journalist, my purpose is in the public interest. Therefore, it is my understanding I will not be charged a search fee for the first 25 pages. Please contact me if the number of pages exceeds that amount. If my request is denied in whole or part, I ask that you justify all deletions by reference to specific exemptions of the act.
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