Open Government MAGIC: Media Access to Government Information Conference

The right of the governed to gain access to information about their government is a core pillar of the compact between “We the People” in the United States and those they elect to office. The quality, breadth and depth of that access, however, is often troubled.

Today in Washington, the Media Access to Government Information Conference (MAGIC) will explore these issues from within the august halls of the National Archives. MAGIC is a collaborative, one-day conference sponsored by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and Duke University’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy. The primary focus of the conference is to highlight how journalists and others writing about public affairs can gain better access to government records by journalists. A liveblog of the proceedings, agenda and associated papers are embedded below:

Program and Papers

9:00-9:20 Welcome by David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, NARA; Sanford Ungar, President Goucher College, and Member, Public Interest Declassification Board

9:20-10:30 Session 1: Media Access to Federal Government Records

Journalists and NGO participants on this panel will address how FOIA and access to federal records might be re-tooled as the federal government implements its open government and transparency policies. Government panelists will describe their vision for how new policies and technologies are changing access to government records. Additional topics may include:

  • Institutionalizing the release of common records used to monitor agency activity rather than waiting for FOIA requests to come in;
  • Centralizing, updating, and documenting information systems on agency FOIA websites; and
  • Building openness into administrative (records collecting) systems that are eventually released to the public.

Moderator: Irene Wu, Director of Research, SAND-MNIA International Bureau, FCC

  • Gary Bass, Founder and Executive Director, OMB Watch;
    (Paper)
  • Sarah Cohen, Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy, Duke University;

    (Comments)
  • William Kammer, Chief, FOIA Division, U.S. Department of Defense, and Vice President, American Society of Access Professionals;
  • Miriam Nisbet, Director, Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), NARA
    (Paper)

10:30-10:45 Morning Break

10:45-Noon Session 2: Technical Hurdles, Research Solutions

Journalists on the panel will identify specific technical problems in dealing with government records at federal, state, local, and tribal levels. Government officials will identify specific technical solutions or research agendas to find solutions to these problems. Additional topics may include:

  • Re-tooling internal government information systems to improve the quality of records release;
  • Government agency support of research to improve the mining and analyzing of documents not born digital, handwritten responses on forms, and audio/video of government proceedings; and
  • Insights into emerging technologies and cyber infrastructure that may facilitate media access to government records.

Moderator: Robert Chadduck, Acting Director, National Archives Center for Advanced Systems and Technologies (NCAST), NARA

  • David Donald, Data Editor, Center for Public Integrity
    (Comments)
  • Richard Marciano, Professor and Director @ Sustainable Archives and Leveraging Technologies group, UNC School of Information and Library Science
  • George Strawn, Director, National Coordination Office, Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program
  • Ken Thibodeau, Former Director (Retired), National Archives Center for Advanced Systems and Technologies (NCAST)
  • Derek Willis, Web developer, New York Times
    (Comments)

Noon-1:30 Luncheon

1:30-2:45 Session 3: Access to State, Local, and Tribal Government Records

Journalists on this panel will identify issues that arise frequently in seeking records at state, local, and tribal levels. Government panelists will discuss possible solutions to making these records more easily available, and how different levels of government may leverage IT to improve access to records. Additional topics may include:

  • Types of records sought at state, local, and tribal level;
  • Special challenges in variations in open access policies across states and localities; and
  • Federal funds expenditure rules that might trigger more transparency at state and local level.

Moderator: David McMillen, NARA External Affairs Liaison

2:45-3:15 Afternoon Break

3:15-4:30 Session 4: Private Sector Actions

NGO participants will discuss how they work to improve access to records, including participation in discussions to retool government records systems for better access by journalists. Additional topics may include:

  • What transparency advocates, journalism organizations, foundations, and academics could do to support access policies; and
  • The development of tools to aid in the analysis of government records.

Moderator: James Hamilton, Director, DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy, Duke University

  • Bill Allison, Editorial Director, Sunlight Foundation
  • Rick Blum, Coordinator, The Sunshine in Government Initiative
    (Paper)
  • Danielle Brian, Executive Director and Project on Government Oversight
    Bryan Rahija, Blog Editor, Project on Government Oversight
    (Paper)
  • Charles Lewis, Executive Editor, Investigative Reporting Workshop and Professor, School of Communication, American University

About Alex Howard

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.