UA Professor to Embark on Cross-Country Journey to Train Journalists, Citizens

An assistant professor in the University of Arizona School of Journalism is hitting the road for a 45-day road trip across the country to empower journalists and citizens to acquire public records.

David Cuillier, who also serves as the Society of Professional Journalists Freedom of Information chair, will travel April 27 through June 10 by car from Tucson to Washington state, Miami, Portland, Maine, and all places in between. In all, Cuilllier plans to touch base with more than 1,000 people in 50 groups in more than 30 states, including newsrooms, SPJ chapters, coalitions for open government and universities.

"It's a little bit of training mixed with a little survey research, a hint of traveling circus and a whole lot of tent revival," Cuillier said. "Freedom of information, within responsible constraints, is something we can all hoot about."

His mission is to provide training, handouts and pep talks, focusing on journalists who are struggling to do in-depth reporting because of more demands on their time.

"With today's newsrooms decimated by cuts, journalists are demoralized and stretched thin," Cuillier said. "Sometimes everyone needs a reminder of the importance of dogged research, getting at the facts and accessing government documents that help us understand our communities."

During the trip, Cuillier also will survey journalists and citizens to find out whether they are using public records more or less than they have in previous years, and why. He will try to find out what barriers people face in accessing public records.

The tour is made possible by grants from the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Freedom of Information Coalition, with assistance from the UA School of Journalism.

Cuillier, a former newspaper journalist from the Pacific Northwest, is co-author of "The Art of Access: Strategies for Acquiring Public Records," a book that helps journalists and citizens better navigate the maze of requesting government documents.

Cuillier will blog daily from the road and include photos and information about the people he meets. He also will provide tips for accessing records.
By Jeff Harrison, University Communications April 23, 2010