From ScienceWriters: Information Access Database

By Gabriel Popkin

Have you ever had trouble getting access to information or sources you need for a story?

To help address the problem, the recently reconstituted Information Access Committee has created a database in which NASW members can share experiences trying to gain hard-to-obtain information or speak to scientists to whom access is restricted by institutional media policies.

ScienceWriters cover winter 2015-16

The new Information Access database (modeled after the Words’ Worth and the Fine Print databases for freelance writers) will serve as a way for members to share strategies and tips, learn from others’ experiences, and connect with other members around information access issues. We welcome reports on successful, semi-successful, and unsuccessful attempts to gain access to information or scientists from uncooperative institutions.

Members are encouraged to add an experience, or two, or five. Describe in as much detail as possible within these categories:

Type of institution

  • Federal government agency
  • State or local government agency
  • For-profit corporation
  • Nonprofit corporation
  • University or research institution

Type of request

  • Interview with subject matter expert
  • Interview with political figure
  • Information not publicly available

How you made initial request

  • Email
  • Phone

What was the initial response?

Did you file a FOIA request?

Eventual outcome

  • Interview granted with no PIO oversight
  • Interview granted with PIO oversight
  • Email interview in lieu of phone/in-person interview
  • Interview refused
  • Information provided without redaction
  • Information provided but partially redacted
  • Information refused

Particularly useful are tactics and strategies used to get information out of a person or institution that did not want to provide it. Also include what else you think you could have done to get a faster response.

The Information Access database is found at nasw.org/information-access.

NASW members can also receive email notification of new Information Access entries. Just check the “Subscribe to Information Access entry content” box at the bottom of any individual entry or the “Information Access entry” box on your user profile subscriptions page.

Contact NASW’s Information Access committee chair Gabriel Popkin at gpopkin@gmail.com if you have any questions.

Gabriel Popkin is a science and environmental writer based in Mount Rainier, Md.

(NASW members can read the rest of the Winter 2015-16 ScienceWriters by logging into the members area.) Free sample issue. How to join NASW.