Introducing “Make FOIA Work”

paul mihailidis
Jun 24 · 4 min read

Re-Imagining local reporting through participatory design and creative data storytelling

By Adam Gamwell & Paul Mihailidis

In collaboration with independent and alternative news and information platforms Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ) and MuckRock, I’m excited to announce the release of Make FOIA Work.

Make FOIA Work is a news literacy project that reimagines journalism through design-oriented, participatory and collaborative journalism pedagogies.

Working across classrooms, design studios, newsrooms and employing participatory design and data visualization tools, participants created collaborative data-driven and engagement-based stories that developed from successful FOIA requests. The project explores how data visualization and participatory design can change the way we create stories, gather news, or produce local reporting?

FOIAs matter because they are often considered the underside of journalism and public information. Reporters, researchers, or concerned citizens have to file official petitions to get access to declassified information from local, regional or national government agencies. And often, those agencies are slow to release information or prefer to release partial or redacted information.

The project is concerned with how the lack of transparency in the FOIA process may affect people’s perceptions of journalism and the journalistic process of news gathering and local reporting. Our goal became to reimagine journalism from a collaborative and design-oriented perspective where journalists, local community members and data platforms could work together to create meaningful and impactful relationships and stories.

The project explores the question of how can data visualization and participatory design change the way we create stories, gather news, or produce local reporting?

To answer this question, Data Visualization students (course syllabus) worked with FOIA filing and information sharing platform MuckRock to file FOIAs around gun sales in Massachusetts. Students cleaned and distilled the data and turned it into useful charts, graphs, and visualizations for BINJ to use in writing stories. The stories revolve around gun sales in Massachusetts and expose corruption, the use of illicit or discontinued weapons, political connections, and more.

Media Design master’s students partnered with BINJ and MuckRock in a Participatory Design Methods class (course syllabus) where they rethought journalism as collaboration. Participatory design is an interdisciplinary field of research and intervention that shifts design practices to be more inclusive, participatory and democratic by designing alongside and with stakeholders who will be affected by design. Participatory processes help participants solve the right problems, and increase stakeholder buy-in and a shared sense of project ownership.

The team produced a participatory design book that details how to conduct participatory and creative community engagement research. The book is a field guide for journalists, practitioners, and community members that details how civic media students designed alongside journalists. The book also provides tips, techniques and steps for undertaking your own participatory design projects.

Want to learn more?

1. Read the Stories

With the support of the Make FOIA Work team and journalism students, journalists at BINJ investigated and wrote a series of 7 stories detailing gun sales in Massachusetts, corruption, the illegal use of tasers, and more.

The stories draw on FOIA released data sets, all of which are available alongside the stories.

2. Download the Field Guide and course Syllabi

The field guide is written for journalists, educators, and community members who want to practice participatory design and solve problems together.

The book provides methods, tools and examples from Media Design students learning the process. Also included in this section are the Data Visualization and Participatory Methods course syllabi.

3. File a FOIA

Visit MuckRock.com to check out their extensive community of journalists, information gatherers and engaged citizens, see how the FOIA process works and get help filing one.

visit https://muckrock.com

4. Support Local Journalism

To help sustain this type of collaborative reporting, supporting the Boston Institute for non-profit journalism (BINJ), who is a catalyst for supporting local and alternative media in Boston.

visit: https://binjonline.com

THANKS

Support for this project was made possible by the Online News Association’s Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education. This project is administered by the Online News Association with support from Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund, Rita Allen Foundation and the Scripps Howard Foundation.

For more information on this project, contact:

Paul Mihailidis, PhD
Emerson College Department of Journalism
Paul_mihailidis@emerson.edu
617–824–3406

paul mihailidis

My name is Paul Mihailidis. I’m a professor of civic media and journalism at Emerson College in Boston, MA. I founded and direct the MA in Media Design, and run a global media academy in Salzburg, Austria. This site is where I share my research, projects, and writing. Enjoy!

paul mihailidis

Written by

professor, researcher, teacher, activist. Engagement Lab @ Emerson College & Salzburg Global Seminar. @pmihailidis www.paulmihailidis.com

paul mihailidis

My name is Paul Mihailidis. I’m a professor of civic media and journalism at Emerson College in Boston, MA. I founded and direct the MA in Media Design, and run a global media academy in Salzburg, Austria. This site is where I share my research, projects, and writing. Enjoy!