Students Seek $ to Investigate Story

From Nieman Journalism Lab

Bringing a crowd to a records fight: The Columbia Missourian uses to raise money for data request

For one community newspaper (and journalism school teaching lab), outside donations quickly helped pay for access to public data.

There’s a familiar dance any time a newspaper makes a records request to local government. Step 1: Said governmental body says records will cost an exorbitant amount. Step 2: Newspaper counters with the public’s right to know. Step 3: Governmental body slightly lowers the cost of the records request. Step 4: Repeat until parties reach a terse agreement, abandon the story, or go to court.

This is business as usual for newspapers; most newsrooms have a budget specifically for records requests, but that doesn’t mean reporters don’t want to cut the best deal possible, for reasons both journalistic (the public needs to know) and financial (the paper’s budget is shrinking).

The Columbia Missourian is taking a different tack: raising the money outside the newsroom. The paper, staffed in part by students at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, has used to scare up the funds for records for two separate cases, the most recent being an investigation into parking tickets. In the span of 24 hours last week they raised $500, to get a copy of the city’s parking ticket database for a story on trends in enforcement.

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