I know firsthand that getting public records can be a frustrating process, especially when you’re dealing with a public official who doesn’t know or care about the law. For those officials who do follow the law, BLESS YOU! But some records are especially important to have when covering a beat and deserve a little extra effort to get.
I’ve come up with a list of 3 records every reporter should request:
- Employee list: Ask for an Excel spreadsheet with the name of every public employee on your beat and make sure that list includes their title, annual salary and hire date, at the very least.
- Cell phone numbers: Find out who on your beat has a government-issued cell phone and get those numbers! When breaking news happens, you’ll be so glad you did.
- E-mail: I know it can be time-consuming, but I urge you to request e-mails from the top person on your beat (mayor, superintendent, governor, etc.) If you can, get the e-mails from his or her top sidekicks as well. Some will send you the e-mails electronically, some will send you a CD and some will make you pick them up. Every place is different, but being kind and persistent will usually get you the best outcome.
There are so many great records out there, but this is a good start. I hope it’s helpful. For those of you who aren’t reporters, don’t worry. In a later blog, I’ll address some records that can benefit everyone. Until then, keep digging. You never know what you’ll find!