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Wichita Watchdogs talk FOI

In Kansas, reporters often must wait for public records to be extracted from a salt mine. After a few years, records required to be retained are stored deep underground at a giant salt mine complex in Hutchinson. That’s one of the many tidbits we learned last weekend during a Watchdog Workshop at Wichita State University. More than 50 print and TV journalists attended the event, which also included hands-on training in using Excel spreadsheets.

Here are a few tips from the workshop that you might find useful:

  • Nothing in Kansas state law prevents someone in a closed meeting from later discussing it with a reporter. That may be true in your state, too.
  • The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) typically cannot be used by police, fire departments, funeral homes and others to deny releasing certain information. The law applies only to specific health-care providers. Full details are available at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacysummary.pdf.
  • Broadcast journalists who juggle multiple assignments can make their mark with watchdog stories that focus on consumer issues. Remember: Everyone is a consumer.
  • For better results in tracking down people and profiling them, try Pipl.com. It looks through “deep Web” sites that other search engines miss, such as MySpace, Flickr and Friendster.
  • Comprehensive information and data about federal spending and contracts is online at USAspending.gov.

Many thanks to our new friends at Wichita State and The Wichita Eagle. Special thanks to our guest speakers: reporter David Heath from the The Seattle Times, attorney Michael W. Merriam from Topeka and reporter Jennifer Strathman from KHSB-TV in Kansas City.

— Doug Haddix, training director

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