If you’re a journalist like me, you have a lot of records requests pending at any one time.

If you’re not already keeping track of them in a spreadsheet or similar fashion, this article is to show you how it can be easily done, offer up a template, examples, and some organizational tips.

When I first started out, I didn’t know much about record requests.

That all changed when I started working at the Rio Grande SUN. Now, filing record requests is second nature.

A spreadsheet for open records requests makes it so much easier to keep track of everything.

Since I’m in New Mexico, it’s a lot easier than most states. New Mexico has a very requester-friendly open records law that allows for free inspections of records and offers few exemptions for public officials to withhold records.

That does not preclude me from filing FOIA, or Freedom of Information Act, requests with public agencies, although those requests compose just a fraction of my work. (My FOIA spreadsheet is just a copy of my IPRA spreadsheet that I modified.)

Keeping track of all of those requests, their statuses, when they were filed and all of the other important information can be somewhat easy, but it takes a little bit of organization, a spreadsheet and the determination to keep the spreadsheet updated.

As an example, I currently have 148 (as of June 4, 2017) open records requests. Keeping track of all of those demands some sort of organization.

I’ve only come to the helpfulness of spreadsheets in the past two or three years. Before, I always thought spreadsheets were for things that dealt with numbers. For everything else, I would use a normal text document.

For records requests, I used to just not do anything, other than a search through my email. Oh, how wrong I was!

So, let’s dive straight into the spreadsheet.

(Personally, I use Sheets in Google Docs, mostly because it is available wherever I log into my Google account. Attached at the end of this post is also an Excel version of my template as well as the example spreadsheet.)

Rows upon rows

Before I go any further, please remember, spreadsheets are a somewhat personal thing. I suggest you use a spreadsheet to keep track of your requests, but you should format the spreadsheet’s rows or columns to match what information you want to access.

The first row I use to sort requests is agency. This could be replaced with date, depending on your personal preferences.

Next is the date the request was sent. This is very important because it dictates deadlines and how late a request is in being fufilled. Plus, it’s a great row to sort by.

Everyone needs the first four rows (date, agency, documents requested and status) for a records request spreadsheet. Everything after that is what data you need to help keep track of your requests.

As an aside, when I send requests, I put the date I’m sending the request at the end of the email subject line. I use this as a sort of master reference point when trying to find the string of emails attached to the request.

I also make sure to put a very brief summary of the content of the request in my subject line. This, just like a date, adds another reference point.

An example of a subject line, which I condense for the spreadsheet:

IPRA – May 8 incident reports, supplemental reports, investigative reports, audio/video from incident & communications from — 5-28-2015

The next row is the request’s status, along with the last date  of the last status, if it exists. If an agency sent the three-day letter (mandated in New Mexico law) on May 1, 2017, then I write: “3-day letter 5-1-2017.”

(more…)

It’s already 2017 and I’m not much closer to finishing Jake Highton’s five-year reading plan than I was when I started back in the summer of 2013.

(Read the original post here and read the revised, shortened post here.)

I’d just been laid off from the Nevada Appeal, along with a part time person. I had the least seniority in the newsroom, so I was the one to get the ax and go on unemployment.

It was summer, I had a kegerator in the house and I lived next to the river in Reno.  I rode my bicycle up to the university to visit with my former journalism professor, Jake Highton.

Highton gave me two columns he wrote for the Sparks Tribune outlining the list of books, movies, music and plays he thought young journalists should consume, set to a plan of five years.

While I haven’t been doing much to finish off the list, I have made some progress.

At least two years ago now, I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Considered a masterwork in its time, I found a more critical reading of it took away some from the bluster it is normally buoyed with.

Although it is about environmentalism, chemicals, and the havoc we’ve been wreaking on the planet, I was really worried about some of Carson’s claims because they did not represent the whole truth.

I think the best example is her bemoaning of the havoc certain chemicals had on the lowly earthworm.

We all love earthworms, right? They’re fantastic. They do all sorts of things for the environment.

Except. Well, most of them are not native to North America, the place Carson was writing about. They vastly change the ecology, and according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, they’re really bad, especially in forested areas.

Farad Power Plant in California on the Truckee River

But Carson never acknowledges the lowly earthworm as an invasive species, or that it changes the ecologies of the places it is introduced to, or anything else. She only talks about how bad it is that chemicals are killing them.

While I certainly agree that the widespread use of chemicals is a bad thing, her complete and total lack of either understanding or acknowledgement of their invasive nature casts her entire book into doubt, at least for me.

As a critical reader, I now question every single premise she puts forth. I think to myself, what else is she holding back? What else is she ignorant about?

In short, her credibility is severely damaged for me, and as a result, so too is her book.

There are more examples, but, alas, I have lost or given away the copy I annotated.

Nonetheless, the only answer is to keep on, keepin’ on through Highton’s five-year list.

Since I haven’t updated the blog in quite a while, I thought it would not hurt to cross-post my guide on looking up federal search warrants on PACER, in New Mexico.

This was orginally posted, as part of a work-in-progress cops and courts guide, here: http://nmcourts.wheelerc.org/.

Looking up federal search warrants on PACER

Searching New Mexico federal search warrants requires a PACER account and a willingness to shell out some cash for unneeded documents.

But, maybe we can change that. I’m currently hosting (on google drive) all of the federal search warrants (the dockets, the reports and the affidavits/applications) I download when looking to see if anything has been filed for my jurisdiction. If anyone has a better way to archive and share them, please let me know. I would like to make it as open and easy as possible.

Here’s the link. Want to add more? Please email them to me. As will be explained below, the report should be saved (into a PDF) and the date it is run should be listed on the document name. (More warrants are unsealed as each month progresses.)

(LINK: On Google Drive)

If you’re using pacer, you should have RECAP installed. (It’s PACER backwards). I find it works best on Chrome, although it also works on Firefox. It automatically uploads the document to the Internet Archive so whenever someone else looks at case file/docket you’re looking at, they can bypass PACER and download, for free, from the Archive. This also includes you, if you lose the document or can’t find it on your computer.

There are two ways to search for search warrants. The first is the easiest, but requires running reports, which could (technically) cost well above the normal $3/30 page ceiling for charges on PACER.

The second merely requires the knowledge that search warrants use the two middle letters of “mr”. Example: 15-mr-439

As an example, a civil case is usually numbered by: the last two digits of the year (15) – CV for civils – the number of the case here, such as 125. Example: 15-cv-00125.

Criminal magistrate cases are MJ. Example: 15-mj-00125 or 15-mj-125.

Criminal district court cases are CR. Example: 15-cr-00125 or 15-cr-125.

The first method (for illustrated first method, see below).

1. Log into pacer and go to the NM District Court.

2. Click on “Reports” at the top of the page.

3. Under criminal reports, click on “Criminal Cases.”

4. Under “Office” select “Albuquerque.” Under “Case types” select “Miscellaneous Criminal.”

5. Click on “Run Report.”

6. Choose which warrant to view. The report should only show unsealed search warrants.

The second method

1. Go into PACER, NM District Court, and search for the year of search warrants you desire, using the middle letters of MJ. It should for 2015, start at 15-mj-00001.

The first method, illustrated

1. Log into pacer and go to the NM District Court.

2. Click on “Reports” at the top of the page.

Fed SW Step 1A

 

3. Under criminal reports, click on “Criminal Cases.”

Fed SW Step 2

4. Under “Office” select “Albuquerque.” Under “Case types” select “Miscellaneous Criminal.”

Fed SW Step 3

5. Click on “Run Report.”

6. Choose which warrant to view. The report should only show unsealed search warrants.

Fed SW Step 4

 

This guide, website and all the information contained therein is distributed under a Creative Commons 4.0 Attribution-Only license.
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