What kinds of public records can I request?

I’ve written a lot about public documents, but I’ve failed to mention that there are many other things you can request under the public records law. The law differs a little bit in each state, but here is what you can request in North Carolina, where I live:

  • documents
  • papers
  • letters
  • maps
  • books
  • photographs
  • films
  • sound recordings
  • magnetic or other tapes
  • electronic data‑processing records
  • artifacts or other documentary material

I admit, there are many things on this list that I’ve never requested. I, and many other and journalists, should do a better job of incorporating different types of records into our news coverage.

ABCNews.com did just that recently when they posted 13 never-before-seen images of the World Trade Center from Sept. 11, 2001. ABC got the pictures by filing a Freedom of Information Act request in 2009 with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which had collected the pictures as part of an investigation into the World Trade Center’s collapse.


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