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.”

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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 moving to New Mexico, homebrewing has taken a back seat to everything else.

12 packs and 24 packs, recycled, were the best way to store the brew.

I have 15 gallons of cider (in three separate batches) hanging out against one wall in my kitchen, a big bottle of iodopher sitting in my cabinet and a bunch of bottles sitting outside, behind a shed. I even have lactose and corn sugar to get those batches bottled. (I haven’t reinvested in a capper yet).

Unfortunately, with no dish washer to easily sanitize my bottles, I end up putting bottling off time after time after time.

However, when I did have access to a dishwasher, before I moved to kegging (which I cannot recommend enough) and I had friends to consistently drink and brew with, having enough brew on hand was a big issue.

Once we three started brewing, we quickly realized that we liked what we were making, that what we were making took a long time (relatively) and that we needed to be making loads right now for our future selves to have enough to imbibe.

(On another point, if you’re not kegging, getting enough bottles is definitely an issue. Fortunately, when I was living in Reno, there was separated curb side recycling.)

Another of our concerns, as broke young people, was how to maximize our dollars in comparison to our brews. That is, beer is great, but beer can be relatively more expensive to brew, so what about cider?

Cider was easy. Cider was super easy. Cider required less effort and took much easier to get 5-gallon buckets (rather than 6-gallon buckets).

20 gallons of cider in four 4-gallon buckets and one 5-gallon bucket.

So we started making cider, realized we loved it, then had a problem. There was no more cider left. Between ourselves, our friends, the people who lived in the house, the first five gallons of cider were gone in a heartbeat.

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21. If using buses, protect your stuff if its raining

The first time it happened, I wasn’t angry. I was just sad. After a sleeper bus ride from Hoi An to Nha Trang, arriving at 6 a.m., I got my bag out of the bottom of the bus and found it was soaked. Not just soaked. Sopping wet. Still, I shouldered the bag, moved my smaller day pack to my chest, and trudged toward my hostel, soaking my shirt all the way through.

After getting a few more hours of sleep in one of the hostel’s empty dorm rooms, meant for travelers who don’t get to check in yet, I opened my backpack.

It was the worst possible scenario. All of my clothes in the bag were completely soaked. Not just a little. I could literally wring the water out of each piece of soaked clothing. Worse yet, two of my prime camera lenses had been wrapped in the same clothes. They appeared to be undamaged by the water, but I knew I was going to be staying in my dirty clothes until the following day, when I could pick up my cleaned and dried laundry.

Before I go any further, what should you do?

  1. Wrap your clothes up in plastic bags if you’re worried about the rains
  2. Buy rain covers for your bags.

(Read the rest of the story after the jump.)

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20. Take other travelers’awesome evaluations of tours with salt

Maybe this doesn’t apply if you’re not talking to backpackers, I don’t know. Staying in dorms, that’s who I always ran in to.

Here’s the thing: it seems like most travelers want to be positive, nay, they want to be having the time of their lives and they can’t be having that once-in-a-lifetime experience if they admit that anything they did was less than amazing.

That means when it comes to the tours, either set up through your hotel, hostel or done through a travel agent, people often want the tour to have been fantastic, even if it wasn’t, to keep up the idea that they had a great time. That means often, you can’t trust their evaluation.

My example is Halong Bay, during my 2016 Vietnam trip, which I will write up in a later post. It’s supposed to be amazing! One of the best things in Vietnam, with the limestone islands and whatnot, dotting the sea.

Two guys I met in Hanoi had just been there, and done their tour through the hostel. Later on, I talked to a French couple who have been traveling for a long time. They told me, instead, go to Cat Ba Island (slightly different name, basically the same place), rent a scooter, hang out for a day, scope out day tours, and do that the next day.

I decided the risk of the pair being right was outweighed by the ease of the tour through the hostel, as well as my limited time in country.

A German (right) cheers on an Argentine woman about to jump off of the top of the boat, Dec. 9, 2016, in Halong Bay, Vietnam. The limestone cliffs and palisades and the like can be seen in the background. The tour was described by others as being the best thing during their entire vacations. Taken on Dec. 9, 2016.

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19. Your feet are going to swell

Maybe it doesn’t happen to you. Maybe it doesn’t happen to everybody and maybe it depends on where you go and the time of year but, me? My feet swell. Pretty bad, usually.

The problem is we sweat. A lot. If I’m wearing my small backpack (which I cart around my camera and lenses in; I may reevaluate my camera options for a future trip), in Ho Chi Minh City in south Vietnam, pretty much as soon as I walk outside, I start sweating profusely. Within 20 minutes, the back of my shirt (COTTON IS EVIL) is soaked through. Completely. Wring it out and there will be lots of water on the ground wet. Hard to get dry again wet.

That’s a lot of water. Moreover, that’s a lot of salt water.

To the north in Hanoi, in December, it’s not nearly as bad (a balmy 80 degrees) but it’s still a problem.

What to do about it? Drink lots of water or sports drinks (buy the 1.5 litter bottles) and eat lots of salty foods/snack foods. You need to replenish the salt your body is losing through sweat. When your body loses that salt, and it doesn’t get replaced, your feet swell.

Sounds easy, right? Well, it doesn’t always work at that way, so be prepared if they do swell, and don’t be too horrified.

18. Wear a watch

Phones are great, except when you’re traveling and they’re confused as to where you are, or which time zone, etc.

What’s better is to bring a watch that you can easily set for whatever the local time is, both while dealing with layovers on the way there and back as well as moving between countries. This also means you don’t have to deal with either bringing your phone everywhere or making sure it’s always fully charged.

So, just bring a watch.

thailand-phone-photos-3-900x600

This little guy broke the bench! Go gasoline!

17. Have open travel plans

This was advice that I read on another website that dealt with tips on travelling to Southeast Asia and I found that it was so right.

Either as a solo traveler, or if you’re going with someone else, keep your plans open. Read the guide books. Be prepared to make new (temporary) friends and to travel with them.

Maybe you want to go to Chang Mai in the north, or Phuket in the south or maybe you want to join some people on a trip to Cambodia. Maybe in Cambodia, you want to travel with someone. Whatever it is, keep your options open.

thailand-phone-photos-1-1-of-1-900x600

Christmas decorations in Downtown Bangkok. Lovely. Make sure your travel plans are open enough.

16. Pay for laundry service

Do not bring enough clothes to last you the whole trip. Just go get your clothes laundered at any nearby vendor who does the wash.

It’s cheap, it’s easy. In the meantime, go buy a cool beer shirt, or a soccer polo for the local team.

As much as I love this photo, it shows the limits of shooting in JPEG. (See the sky?) Often, down this kind of alley, you will find laundry shops. Taken in Bangkok on Dec. 4, 2015.

As much as I love this photo, it shows the limits of shooting in JPEG. (See the sky?) Often, down this kind of alley, you will find laundry shops. Taken in Bangkok on Dec. 4, 2015.

15. When you find good clothes, buy them

It’s going to happen. There’s going to be a vendor on the street and he’s going to have the perfect piece of clothing. (T-shirt, button up, dress, scarf, shorts, etc.) You’re going to buy one, just one, and think, at the end of my trip, I’ll come back here, and I’ll pick up a bunch more.

Except you’ll never be able to find him again. It will be like he disappeared into a side alley, down the gutter or was picked up by the trashmen. He will no longer exist and your chance to get more of those shirts will be gone, forever.

I should point out that my favorite button up shirts were all bought (cheaply) from a street vendor when I was traveling through Paris, France.

There are a couple other things that should be noted when buying things from vendors, at least in Thailand. The first is, haggle them down (assuming no price tags). If you’re buying in bulk, use that as a bargaining chip and if they’re asking too much, and won’t budge, just walk away.

The next is, don’t be afraid to just buy shirts, pants, shorts, whatever it is, there. I realized far too far into my trip that a synthetic Bangkok soccer team polo was probably one piece of clothing I should have been wearing much of the time, rather than a cotton T-shirt.

You got to have some fun, right? Taken in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, on Dec. 17, 2016

You got to have some fun, right? This is the synthetic soccer polo I should have first bought when I got in country. Taken in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, on Dec. 17, 2016

This is a French girl (some kind of physical education teacher) whom I was supposed to send pictures to. I forgot her name and have no idea where I put her email address. Woops! Taken in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, on Dec. 17, 2016.

This is a French girl (some kind of physical education teacher) whom I was supposed to send pictures to. I forgot her name and have no idea where I put her email address. Woops! Taken in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, on Dec. 17, 2016.