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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Journalism professor: Reporting skills vital for all

    Hard-boiled journalists spend a lot of time digging through public records to get the dirt on the actions and misdeeds of government officials — it’s in the job description.

    But one UA professor says you don’t need to work for the daily newspaper to want to go sifting through government documents — anybody can use basic reporting skills to improve their lives.

    David Cuillier, who teaches reporting public affairs and computer-assisted reporting in the UA School of Journalism, hopes to spread this message with his talk, “”Your Right to Know,”” at the UA Main Library today.

    The one-hour talk, which will focus on how to access criminal records, property files and other government documents, will be held in the East Lobby of the library at 12:30 p.m.

    Cuillier is a nationally recognized expert on freedom of information issues, chairing the Society of Professional Journalists’ national Freedom of Information Committee.

    Digging through paperwork might “”sound kind of boring,”” Cuillier said, but can help people to do anything from buy a house or car, make better decisions about child-care or doctors, or even find old friends.

    “”It’s phenomenal the amount of information that can help you every day,”” he said. “”You don’t need a private investigator or a commercial company. You don’t need anybody to find out what you need to know.””

    Cuillier said that, according to his research, in many cases, private citizens have even better luck accessing public information than professional journalists.

    “”Agencies delay requests and dink around the media more than anybody else because they’re nervous about what stories might be written,”” he said.

    Cuillier incorporates practical applications of public records requests into his own journalism classes, requiring students to research their “”Dream House.””

    For the assignment, students request public records for a house that is for sale, and then decide whether or not they would buy it based on what they discover.

    “”They don’t really teach you this stuff in school,”” he said.

    Students find development plans to find out what kind of stores might be built near the neighborhood, investigate crime records, street maintenance records and even odor complaints.

    “”You can find out if you’re living in the stinkiest part of town or not,”” he said. “”Public records can expose problems you might not be aware of other times.””

    Cuillier said he picked up his zeal for public records while plying his trade as a reporter and editor for community newspapers in Washington. He found them indispensible.

    “”I found them so useful and important in finding out what our government was up to,”” he said. “”I started realizing, these are important for everybody, not just journalists.””

    Cuillier said he hopes people walk away from the lecture with some idea of how getting access to government can help them in their daily lives, as well as a better understanding of where to go, and how to get them.

    For the talk, Cuillier has prepared a handbook with scores of ideas of public records requests for everyday living — as well as instructions on how to get them.

    “”If people feel more confident in knowing how to access their government, then I’ve done my job,”” Cuillier said. “”The more we can get people interacting with their government, the better.””

    Cuillier’s presentation is part of the lecture series, “”Tuesday Talks,”” held the first Tuesday of every month. The talks showcase different research around the university.

    Freedom of information was chosen as the topic of this month’s lecture in advance of Bill of Rights Day, which is Dec. 15.

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