IRE Commons: How to pry out records and bring cash to your newsroom

  • Event: 2017 IRE Conference
  • Speakers: James Neff of The Philadelphia Inquirer; Katie Townsend of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
  • Date/Time: Saturday, Jun. 24 at 10:15am
  • Location: IRE Commons
  • Audio file: No audio file available.

As investigations editor at the Seattle Times, Neff brought in nearly $600,000 to the newsroom by using lawyers -- working on contingency -- to sue for improperly withheld public records in Washington state. In 19 states, the losing agency must pay the requester’s reasonable legal fees and sometimes even hefty financial penalties. Neff and open-records lawyer Townsend will explain winning tactics, including how to make your requests bulletproof from the start, how to select cases to pursue, and how find lawyers to take your case for free. If your journalism involves CA, CO, FL, HI, IL, IN, IA, LA, MI, NV, NJ, NM, OK, OR, RI, VT, WA or WV, you’ll want hear about this innovative approach.

Speaker Bios

  • Jim is deputy managing editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he oversees its 10-member, Pulitzer-winning I-Team. He served 10 years on IRE's board, including a term as president. He is the author of five works of nonfiction, including "Mobbed Up," an IRE Award winner adapted into the HBO film "Teamster Boss" and most recently "Vendetta: Bobby Kennedy vs. Jimmy Hoffa." Among Jim's passions are narrative  writing, archival research, and fighting for public records.  

  • Katie Townsend (@katie_rcfp) is the Legal Director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.  She oversees the litigation, amicus, and other legal work of Reporters Committee attorneys, and represents the Reporters Committee, news organizations, and individual journalists in court access, freedom of information, and other First Amendment and press freedom matters.

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