Campus open records ain’t so open, apparently

I learned about the Ohio University SPJ chapter doing their Ohio public university open records audit last fall and eagerly awaited their results. I had a sneaking suspicion they might find some uncooperative campuses. And geez, did they.

Nearly 60 percent of all records requested by the students were denied, while 24 percent were provided “no questions asked” another 17 percent were handed over after student identified themselves as journalists. Ohio law makes no special provisions for access to documents by journalists as compared to non-journalist citizens.

Gregory Korte, SPJ’s Ohio Freedom of Information co-chairperson, has written about this audit on the Ohio SPJ FOI Web site. It’s also been written about by The Cincinnati Enquirer, among other publications.

This may not seem like a big deal to some, but for a democracy to work transparency is paramount. Though some documents can and should be sealed by the government, the vast majority should not. The public must have a right to know how their government acts, works and functions – or doesn’t – on their behalf.

Lately there has been a dramatic shift away from open, easily-accessible public records. When in the past federal records, for example, were given away unless there was substantial reasons requiring their secrecy, the exact opposite is now true. It seems to be spilling downward as policy-makers and courts begin to shift away from this transparency.

And what does this mean to non-journalists? It means reporters cannot do their jobs as effectively. In turn, the public knows less about what their government is doing – from police officers to mayors to courts to jailers – it goes on and on. And that, folks, ain’t good any way you slice it.

Read the campus open records audit report.

Author: Joe Wessels

Joe Wessels is a freelance journalist and photographer. Wessels covers local news events for Thomson Reuters news service and features for About.com's Cincinnati Guide site, plus is the executive director of hyperlocal news site, iRhine.com. He wrote for The Cincinnati Post, covering Cincinnati City Hall and Hamilton County government and wrote a weekly political column, which continued weekly at Cincinnati CityBeat. Previously, he was a reporter for the Cincinnati Business Courier and writes or has written for several publications in Cincinnati and around the country including The Cincinnati Enquirer, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine and the Sacramento News & Review. He is a native of Colerain Township, one of Cincinnati's western suburbs, and now lives in Over-the-Rhine near downtown Cincinnati. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a journalism writing certificate from the University of Cincinnati. He also graduated from Colerain High School, is an avid photographer, news junkie and was once a roller rink disc jockey, and sometimes rides a scooter around town.

1 thought on “Campus open records ain’t so open, apparently”

  1. In the UK we have, recently, passed a similar Freedom of Information Act. Sounds good, but of course government officials can only hand over what they have. So what has been happening? Officials are keen to get papers off their hands so they dont have respond to a request. I dont think its deliberate, just that requests for info cause work. Good decisions and laws can be undone by poor implementation. So, a similar survey in the UK shows similar results. Which is a shame for democracy. Raul.

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