The first response from Florence School District 3 to my FOIA letter.

In my FOIA experience, agencies have tried all kinds of things to block or delay the release of information, but I got to see a new one when dealing with a small school district in South Carolina.

Last April, a Lake City teacher was arrested for criminal sexual conduct with a minor. It was in and out of the news for a little bit.

During a lull in the coverage I ran into a family member of the teacher who said the district knew what was going on for longer than they acknowledged, and that I should be able to find at least one email about her “getting a talking to,” information that proved the district knew of the misconduct before she was officially reprimanded.

As soon as I got back to the office, I wrote up a FOIA letter to the district (Florence School District 3) for all emails to and from the school’s principals concerning the teacher in the last two years.

I’d rather know someone at an organization who doesn’t mind giving me information than send a FOIA letter any day. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that option this time. I think in a lot of organizations, especially smaller towns like Florence, S.C., FOIA is seen one of three ways: Read More


I think most people know I’m not at the Morning News anymore. Currently, I’m living on a mattress on the floor of a room in downtown Columbia, South Carolina.

During my mid-morning break from playing Call of Duty to look for jobs, I came across this. It’s a job listing from The Post and Courier in Charleston – a job listing that makes a pretty mighty claim:

The Post and Courier, South Carolina’s largest newspaper, is seeking an experienced reporter to cover the Boeing Co. and technology…

Wait…didn’t I just read on The State’s website that they were South Carolina’s largest newspaper? Not that who is bigger really matters to me, but my brain just likes to investigate. So I did. Read More

a screenshot of The Vault homepage (click to enlarge)

By posting thousands of classified government documents online, Wikileaks aims to keep governments open. By posting records and HIV status information on porn stars, PornWikileaks says it wants to keep the adult industry open. Saudi Leaks posts documents to expose bureaucratic corruption.

Now the FBI has joined the document dump party.

Thursday the FBI released 350 pages worth of documents from its investigation of Notorious B.I.G.’s murder on its “electronic reading room,” The Vault.

The Vault is an online repository of documents related to FBI investigations of major disasters, celebrities and personnel that seems pretty similar to document leak sites appearing on the net.

The records are broken down into categories like popular culture, civil rights, unexplained phenomenon and counterterrorism and have case files on topics from Jimi Hendrix to Columbine to FBI Undercover Operations.

You can keyword search them or browse the categories, and at the very bottom of the document viewer there’s a link to download the file so you can have it forever.

The whole thing is really neat. Here’s a few things I learned in the last five minutes:

1. The UFO at Roswell was suspended by a balloon.

2. The FBI likes just collects newspaper clippings on the Aryan Nation but took super-detailed notes on Malcom X.

3. PETA sends some pretty mean hate mail:

“Every night I whisper a prayer that something despicable happens to you, something where you feel pain like you’ve never felt before or better yet a prayer that someone you love suffers such as they have never felt before such as you do to the pigs that you put through incredible pain…”

A lot of it isn’t new information. A lot of it is redacted. And I’m sure it’s not everything they have on the said topics, but it’s a nice gesture – although the ultra-skeptical journalist part of my brain is wondering if the FBI is just using pages out of a college basketball playbook: The best defense is a good offense.

My last day at the Morning News was Tuesday. Although it was a great learning experience for me, I decided it was time for me to try something different.

Being an unemployed journalist is kind of bittersweet. On one hand I’m done reporting about birthday parties and confederate museums – but that also means I’m not working at all. After all, it is where I saw my first dead body on the job – and helped kick off the Florence Penny Tax coverage (some of that here and here) – wrote a narrative based on the twitter account of a teen accused of plotting a Columbine-style attack and embedded with a National Guard unit during IED training.

While I’m figuring out what the next chapter is going to be, I’ll be using this time to finish up projects I started months ago and work on a couple I’ve recently picked up (the photo above is from that one).

Let’s start with some favorites. Read More

I took a little break during the holidays -then forgot to come back after the new year, but I’m back –back with a new goal for 2011. I’m going to expand the scope of this blog from journalism to journalism and STUFF. Because honestly, there’s a lot of stuff I’d like to write about that probably isn’t really journalism-related.

But this blog entry will be about journalism. This is a letter email we’ll say I was passed by another person who works at a newspaper. And yes, it is a real letter.

As Clipse would say  –Let me set this scene up for you:

An editor wakes up on a Sunday morning, starts the coffee machine, throws a jacket on and goes outside to grab the paper. Immediately he notices something a little off about the front page but shrugs it off. Ever since the company moved all the copy editors that weren’t fired to a copy-editing factory in another state, things hadn’t been exactly the same. And anyway, last night was Saturday, so there probably wasn’t anyone at the newsroom to look over the pages.

He throws the paper on the counter and pours a cup up coffee just as his 8 year-old son comes bounding down the stairs with his favorite mitt.

“We playing catch today dad?”

“Yep, right after the paper. Get that mitt warmed up.”

He sinks into his leather La-Z-Boy and holds up the front page of the first Sunday paper of 2011.  A subhead glares back at him – “Resolutions are good, but for success, experts say people should strife for results.”

He turns the page. Error. The next page. Error. He turns a few more pages. Errorrrrrrr. Thinking he may still be asleep and entering a newspaper editor’s nightmare he looks over the paper at his son pounding a baseball into his mitt across the room.

Each time the ball hits the spot he sees another one. Schalp! Misspelled name. Schalp! Wrong date. Schalp! Style Error.

Then I imagine the rest of it just kind of happens like one of these scenarios. And after he knocks a couple birds out the sky, he puts the paper down and pens this email: Read More

Journalism advocacy organization Reporters Without Borders launched a Wikileaks mirror site today in one of the boldest moves in defense of Wikileaks I’ve seen by a media organization since the cables were originally released. The site was live when I checked it Tuesday evening.

Their support “will be constantly reassessed in the light of WikiLeaks’ activities and the content it offers in the future” –but the mirror site is a good start.

Let’s hope RWB don’t do any business with AmazonBank of AmericaApple or Paypal — who all dropped Wikileaks in one form or another over the past month…for various reasons…like um…pressure from U.S. politicians and the Justice Department.

The State Department was scrambling to contact foreign governments leading up to the leak and with good reason. A lot of the stuff was embarrassing for the U.S.

Reporters Without Borders said they’re hosting the mirror site in the name of free flow of information. They argue the release of the information serves the general interest and the public right’s to be informed.

Not to mention, the cables reveal some pretty juicy stuff -like how that one time, that one guy SLAPPED Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They’re almost like reading love letters you weren’t supposed to see.

It’s pretty interesting because while the New York Times defends their right to publish stories using the cables, I haven’t seen anything about them defending Wikileaks…

From the Reporters Without Borders statement about the site:

As is often the case with investigative journalism, laws were broken to obtain the documents that were passed to WikiLeaks, and which WikiLeaks has made available to leading news media. In theory, this means that WikiLeaks, and the media that have been cooperating with it, could be regarded as accomplices.

Damn straight some laws were probably broken. But sounds like the government needs to check their own housekeeping rather than going after Julian Assange and Wikileaks so hard. I mean, these cables didn’t leak themselves.

Read More