By Doug Haddix, IRE training director
A public records request for e-mails sometimes can produce quick-turn watchdog stories with powerful results. Take the experience of John Russell, a business reporter for The Indianapolis Star. Russell sharpened his investigative skills during a two-day IRE watchdog boot camp in Nashville for Gannett employees. The training was one of three IRE boot camps for employees of the newspaper chain.
Russell put his training to use covering an ethics scandal over the revolving door between Duke Energy Indiana and state regulators. After the governor fired the chairman of the Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission, Russell and his editor filed a public records request for e-mails involved in the situation.
“The state agency fulfilled our FOIA request within two weeks, providing more than 50 pages of e-mails,” Russell wrote to IRE. “What we found out was that the regulators and company officials were chummy and cozy, to say the least, and showed a very dismissive attitude about state ethics. I got the story into the paper within a few days. The impact was huge and immediate.”
For full details, check out a couple of the many stories that Russell has written in recent months: E-mail scandal topples Duke Energy's James Turner and Deal on $3B Duke Energy plant comes undone. Here is a link to the e-mails posted online by The Star. Russell has had a good ride with the coverage, which he took to a higher level with the public records request for e-mails. Added Russell: “You never know how easy it is sometimes.”