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“A popular government without proper information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy – or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and the people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” (James Madison, Letter to W. T. Barry, 1822).
Journalists play an essential role in our democracy and in arming the public with knowledge. Journalists are essential in building democratic communities because of their historical role as a government watchdog.Key tools that journalists must be able to utilize are Illinois open government laws and the First Amendment. Be it public bodies that circumvent the law because of ineffective oversight, a lack of training, excessive fees that effectively deny access, ineffective policies, or blatant disregard, without journalists who know not only what open government laws say, but how to use and enforce the laws, our democracy is weak.
For more than a decade, CAC community lawyers have worked with journalists on Open Meetings Act, Freedom of Information Act, and First Amendment issues. Our current journalist training program focuses on working journalists as well as college and high school journalism programs. We have created resources (such as Journalist Guide to the Freedom of Information Act and Journalist Guide to the Open Meetings Act and First Amendment*) for journalists and journalism students, facilitated training sessions, and offered internship opportunities.
Our hands-on, open government training seminars focus on improving the quality and depth of journalism and fill the current void in educational programs and resources. Our seminars address how to make document requests, how to identify hot-button compliance issues, First Amendment red flags (such as impermissible public comment restrictions or unfettered discretion policies), and the identification of typical good government issues (such as ethics policies, government financing, procurement, and campaign contributions) that journalists should be aware of and know how to research.
*The journalist Guide to the Open Meetings Act and First Amendment is currently being amended. Please check back later or contact us with any questions.
PLEASE NOTE: CAC is in the process of updating the guides below. For updated FOIA and OMA guides, visit our "citizen guides" page.
*CAC's journalism program was made possible by a grant from the McCormick Foundation.