By Sahar Majid
The U.S. system of open records is an effective way to create transparency by providing information to journalists and the public. This data makes a journalist’s work easier, saves his time and energy and also provides the public with a insightful story based on authentic statistics.
In America, records are often easily and quickly available from most government departments.
Journalism is considered by many to serve as the fourth pillar supporting a nation — but in some countries where journalists are not given power to practice their rights, and they are not given access to data, journalism can’t serve as that pillar. To make journalism a really powerful resource, it’s essential to provide journalists with powerful tools — and availability of open records is one such tool. It ensures government’s honesty as well.
From census records, criminal records, and voter registration, to environmental data, property data, government spending reports and sex offender registration files; each and every set of records can lead to a solid investigative story.
Court data is one such significant tool. I remember when I used to accompany the court reporter from the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida through a previous fellowship assignment. How easily and quickly she could access information about ongoing court cases! It saved her time and she could concentrate more on current court hearings and on writing her story more effectively.
Another important aspect of all these records is their digitization. This makes a huge amount of data available at the touch on a keyboard. If similar data were only available in hard copy formats (file system), it would be much more difficult to sort through huge masses of files.