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The Art of Access

The Art of Access
Strategies for Acquiring Public Records

Second Edition

Other Titles in:

July 2019 | 248 pages | CQ Press

The Art of Access is a must-have book for any journalism student or professional reporter. It will ensure that a journalist understands the importance of authentic documents to establish the credibility of news stories and how crucial it is to obtain those documents no matter the obstacles public officials may create to prevent access.”
—Brant Houston, University Of Illinois

Whatever you’re trying to learn about the world—as a journalist or as an informed citizen— public records often hold the key. But what records, where? And how to get them? Gaining access to records is an art, one that requires an organized approach and a good understanding of human behavior. The Art of Access: Strategies for Acquiring Public Records, Second Edition is a how-to guide for putting the law into action and using ingenuity to pry records loose. FOI experts and longtime journalists David Cuillier and Charles N. Davis present strategies for dealing with the officials who stand between you and the information you seek. They explore new developments in technology and research and the latest online innovations and tools to help you rethink the information-gathering process and develop a document state of mind.

A Humble Foreword by Tom Blanton
About the Authors
CHAPTER 1 Records That Matter: Improve Your Community, Career and Life
Make the world better  
Advance your career  
Improve your personal life  
Develop a new way of thinking  
Try it!  
Suggested links  
CHAPTER 2 Develop a Document State of Mind
Take charge  
Exercise your document muscles  
Find inspiration and support  
Try it!  
Suggested links  
CHAPTER 3 Become an Access Law Expert
Master the law in five steps  
Dip into alphabet laws  
Access to public meetings  
Tap into legal resources  
Try it!  
Suggested links  
CHAPTER 4 The Hunt: Find Records in the Dark
Explore document habitats  
Find records in records  
Build on others’ successes  
Try it!  
Suggested links  
CHAPTER 5 Strategies for Effective Requests
Get in the zone  
Get personal  
Write effective letters  
Cut denials off at the pass  
Apply hard tactics if necessary  
Try it!  
Suggested links  
CHAPTER 6 How to Overcome Denials
Understand the nature of ‘no’  
Respond to common denials  
If the agency says . . .  
Play hardball  
Take them to court  
Try it!  
Suggested links  
CHAPTER 7 Going Digital: Strategies for Getting Data
Become familiar with data  
Get the database  
Counter cyber-denials  
Teach yourself database journalism  
Try it!  
Suggested links  
CHAPTER 8 Understand How Public Officials Think
Comprehend bureaucratic culture  
Identify agency constraints  
Help them help you  
Try it!  
Suggested links  
CHAPTER 9 Putting it Together: Writing, Ethics and Paying it Forward
Create great record-based stories  
Do the right thing: FOI ethics  
Anticipate public reaction  
Publicize FOI  
Become an FOI warrior  
Try it!  
Suggested links  
APPENDIX A The Record Album

"Prying loose documents from government agencies is a hard-fought battle. But The Art of Access will prepare you for war. It's hands down the quintessential guide to understanding arcane public records laws so citizens and journalists can prevail in their quest for information." 

Jason Leopold
Senior Investigative Reporter, BuzzFeed News

"The Art of Access is a refreshingly practical guide to real-world transparency, explaining the tactics that will help journalists, students, and everyday citizens get the records to which they're entitled. My copy is dog-eared from regular readings and it's on every new staffer's desk on day one at my office. This new edition takes an already amazing resource and helps requesters navigate our increasingly vital field with fresh voices, new strategies, and an understanding of how transparency is changing — and how it isn't."

Michael Morisy
Co-founder, MuckRock

"This is the go-to book for any journalist or citizen seeking guidance on successfully obtaining documents and data from government agencies. Its practical, step-by-step approach shows how to prepare and present Freedom of Information requests that can overcome the hurdles set up by reluctant or overworked officials - whether those officials are local, state or federal. The Art of Access is especially deft at presenting the nuances of negotiating for public documents, which is a skill often called upon. All in all, this is an invaluable book upon which to rely if we want to keep our government accountable and our democracy safe."

Brant Houston
Professor and Knight Chair of Investigative Reporting, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors

"This clear, concise and timely book provides a step-by-step guide for turning the over-hyped rhetoric of transparency into a much-needed reality.  Cuillier and Davis, both veterans of the access wars, provide journalists and citizens alike with the keys to unlocking the secrets held in public records that government officials too often like to stow away.  Replete with tips from professional journalists, a bevy of relevant websites and many handy checklists, this book is a practical guide for navigating the often bumpy road to getting the government records you want and need."

Clay Calvert
Professor and Brechner Eminent Scholar in Mass Communication, University of Florida

"Open government laws such as the Freedom of Information Act provide us with powerful political tools, but we don’t always know how to use them.  This superb handbook distills the most effective techniques for gaining access to official records.  It will help readers become more skillful requesters, and better citizens."

Steven Aftergood
Director, Project on Government Secrecy

"Art of Access is a must read for anyone who wants to understand how access to government information really happens on the ground.  This book provides not only a primer on our rights to information and how to exercise them, but also a comprehensive review of both the challenges seekers are likely to face and how to overcome them -- or to move sideways and use another path around the obstacle. While this book is of obvious value to journalism students and practitioners, individuals outside the journalistic community who are new to the art of getting access to government information will especially benefit from the authors' thoughtful and eminently readable navigation of the maze."

Patrice McDermott
Executive Director, Open Government Partnership

“We’re are at a time when journalistic credibility is challenged by fake news and media illiteracy. Open government and advanced information gathering practices are the key to a healthy society. This book is the most comprehensive examination of investigative techniques one is likely to find. It is filled with practical tips and insights to truly hold stakeholders accountable.”

William Schulte
Winthrop University

“This text is equally informative and engaging.  The language is clear and wonderfully conversational.  The ideas are practical and the tips very beneficial.  We are reminded just how important it is to hold our politicians and leaders accountable to the people, as well as how mighty the pen can be.”

Ginger Blackstone
Harding University

“This is a thorough guide in how to grow as a watchdog or investigative journalist.”

Dante Mozie
South Carolina State University

For instructors

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