Monday, July 7, 2008

Creative Yard Signs

Exercise your voting rights early this season! And have fun doing it. My Yard Our Message is a project sponsored by the Walker Art Center, MN Artists, and the UnConvention. And you get to vote and the medium and the message.

Scores of artists and designers were invited to submit yard signs around the theme of what it means to actively participate in a democracy. Their wildly creative proposals deal with information access, the cost of ignorance, get-out-the-vote messages, the war in Iran, tragedy in Darfur, the environment, and virtually every other concern facing voters in a democracy.

Here’s the offer you can’t refuse: You, your family and friends, check the FaceBook rendering of the artists’ proposals. And then you get to vote for the signs that you would be willing, nay eager, to post in your yard!

I spent almost an hour yesterday weighing the messages, the neighborhood, and my willingness to put the yard sign where my mouth is! Virtually every artist’s creation gave me pause and a keen sense that I’d like to talk about this with the neighbors!

The votes will tabulated (and the process monitored with due diligence….) The top fifty vote-getting designs will be announced August 1. They will then be made available to order as a full-sized political yard sign for $20. Top designs will also be available as free downloads. The frosting on the cake -- the Walker and MNArtists are going to print the winning yard signs and place them around the TC’s , with particular emphasis on neighborhoods immediately surrounding the habituĂ©s of the visiting RNConventioneers.

Cast your votes now (yes, you get to vote for more than one) by clicking here!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Play it again, NCMR

In several conversations during the past few weeks I’ve heard people mention that they wish they’d been able to attend the June 6-8 National Media Reform Conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Never mind the Strib reporter and Bill O’Reilly didn’t appreciate the opportunity - in fact, their negative take might have expanded the audience.

Take heart - all of the keynote and other major talks are streamed online. You’ll see and hear Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, author Amy Goodman, political analyst Bill Moyers and a host of other speakers on the NCMR website. There’s also an audio file, transcripts, photos of participants and speakers, and an expanding collection of follow-up reports and developments.

Access sine qua non

The lynchpin of access to government information rests in the hands of every voter. Still not everyone votes, and not everyone knows how to get access to the voting systems. There’s lots of get out the vote information, of course, much of it sponsored by organizations that would like to advise you on how to vote.

Two national groups rise above partisan ship to provide the public with easy-to-use and understand guides to the election process, including information about the rights of voters, the process, local rules and regs. I thought I was tuned in because I know I’m registered and I can find my polling site -- but I just spent two hours plumbing the depths of these resources. There’s an amazing amount of information here, carefully aggregated and analyzed by trusted national organizations.

The League of Women Voters has a great guide in the June 2008 issue of The National Voter. It’s replete with information on where to look for voter registration information, polling places, guides to PSA’s, involved organizations, and links to scores of resources.

OpenTheGovernment has also gathered a ton of information about the complexities of voting in its Election Resource Center., everything from a discussion of “caging” to how to challenge an election.

Minnesota has a history of poll site registration and other open policies. Still, not everyone who can be is “in the loop.” These two nonprofit organizations, and others, have done the research to ease access to the system. Before you post that get-out-to-vote sign in your front yard you might want to know where to send would-be voters for the facts. You don’t have to know the answers, just know where to look.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Mourning Coalition of Journalists for Open Government

As readers in cities around the nation lament the cuts to their local newspaper, their primary source of accurate information and reflection, I am mourning the demise of a related organization, the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government. I got to know the CJOG through Sunshine Week activities, a project in which CJOG was a major force. The Coalition also provided a forum for collaboration and communication among the many journalism organizations that stand up for open government, particularly at the federal level.

The work of the CJOG will be picked up by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, headed by Minnesotan Lucy Dalglish, and by the National Freedom of Information Coalition; Sunshine in Government will also continue to post information on federal open government issues. These are good, reliable -- but very busy -- hands in which to leave an important function.

Needless to say, the reason for closing the virtual doors at CJOG is money. Long ago I learned that people/organizations will pay for goods first, then services, and almost never collaboration. There’s no tangible, visible product, just the payoff of shared responsibility, division of labor, and the powerful impact of collective wisdom. Sometimes those benefits get in the way of other agendas, e.g. obfuscation of facts and empire building.

Thanks to Peter Weitzel for his efforts on behalf of open government and for his continued involvement at the federal level.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

National Media Reform Conference Distilled

The intensity of the National Media Reform Conference held recently in Minneapolis was overwhelming. It’s taken me days to unravel and process the themes of the conference and its countless pre- and post- sessions. The one mainstream media report on the conference, buried in the back pages of the Star Tribune, did the conference a disservice. I can only conclude that Neil Justin and I just attended different sessions, or maybe different conferences.

The sessions in which I participated and the excellent exhibitor representatives, provided context and content to a real movement. This is a surge of energy that has been simmering for decades.

Bill Moyers’ keynote absorbed - and deserved - much of the media attention and garnered scores of ovations. And then there was the terrific exhibit of books sponsored by BirchBark Books, a local independent. The exhibit, offering an impressive selection of related titles, was doing a brisk business every time I ventured past.

One particular observation I have is that participants ranged from teens to people who have been fighting the good right even longer than I have. The session with George Stoney, the “father of public access”, and visionary FCC Commissioner Nicolas Johnson, both from the past century, well documented that fact.

In spite of the information overload I’m proud to have been a participant at this juncture of the media reform movement. Most of all, I’m proud that once again Minnesota played host to a conference devoted to openness, freedom of information, and an informed public.

Same time next year, Minnesota hosts the annual conference of the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

Peter S. Popovich Award

We want to say congrats to the Peter S. Popovich Award winners this year - especially to our own Robbie LaFleur.

Mary Flister, who has been recording Maplewood city meetings and making them available to the community, despite rebukes from to stop, and Robbie LaFleur, director of the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, who has been an unyielding advocate of information accessibility for the general public, both received the Peter S. Popovich Award.

Peter S. Popovich Award is awarded by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Missing Harlan Cleveland

It’s a sad and sobering irony to reflect on the recent death of Harlan Cleveland mist the energy and hope that reign at the Media Reform Conference going full steam this weekend at the Minneapolis Convention Center. For decades Harlan Cleveland has been my guiding star in a turbulent information era.

Twenty-five years ago I was involved with a conference bearing the irresistible title “A Question of Balance: Public Sector, Private Sector Interaction in the Delivery of Information Services. The conference was a typically Minnesotan response to a report from the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science -- from whence we derived the catchy subtle. With prescient naivetĂ© we gathered journalists, media moguls, access advocates and gangs of librarians for two days of weighing the issues raised in the report, a report that one speaker accurately described as “pernicious.”

[The gathering was not without its lively moments - most notably the spectacle of Paul Zurkowski, head of the Information Industry Association, storming down the aisle, pointing his cane as he snarled “Poppycock! at the elegant visionary Anita Schiller.]

The keynote speaker at that event - and my all-time Information Hero - was Harlan Cleveland. He spoke, as he frequently wrote, about the characteristics of information “as a resource, “the basic, yet abstract information.” Cleveland lamented that “we have carried over into our thinking about information (which is to say symbols) concepts development for the management of things - concepts such as property, depletion, depreciation, monopoly, market economics, the class struggle, and top-down leadership.” It might help, he opined, “if we stop treating information as just another thing, and look hard at what makes it so special.”

In Cleveland’s 21st Century construct, information as a resource possesses these unique characteristics:

Information is expandable - “The facts are never all in - and facts are available in such profusion that uncertainty becomes the most important planning factor.” Thus, “the further a society moves toward making its living from the manipulation of information, the more its citizens will be caught up in a continual struggle to reduce the information overload on their desks and in the lives in order to reduce the uncertainty about what to do.”

Information is compressible -- “Though it’s infinitely expandable, information can be concentrated, integrated, summarized... for easy handling.”

Information is substitutable -- It can replace capital, labor or physical materials.

Information is transportable -- “In less than a century, we have been witness to a major dimensional change in both the speed and volume of human activity.”

Information is diffusive -- It tends to leak - and the more it leaks the more we have.

Information is shareable -- Information by nature cannot give rise to exchange transactions, only to sharing transactions. Things are exchanged. “If I give you a fact or tell you a story, it’s like a good kiss: in sharing the thrill, you enhance it.”

Cleveland would relish the exuberant exchanges echoing through the Minneapolis Convention Center this weekend -- snippets of conversations involving 3000 reform advocates talking about knowledge, wisdom, informed citizens and their role in a democracy, transparency in government, media ownership, network neutrality. Many of these attendees may not know the name Harland Cleveland, but they understand - intuitively and empirically -- that information is a resource that is expandable, compressible, substitutable, transportable, diffusive and, most important, shareable -- like a kiss!

Note: One of the earliest iterations of Cleveland’s thoughts on information as a resource is found in the December 1982 issue of The Futurist. Check the site for much more about Harlan Cleveland’s life as well as numerous articles written by Cleveland through the years.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Live From Main Street

Whether or not folks are immediately involved with the Media Reform conference, this is a not-to-be-missed opportunity. This interactive town hall event will be distributed by an unprecedented collaboration of independent media including LinkTV, Free Speech TV, The National Radio Project and many more.

The first 150 guests to arrive will receive a free copy of Amy Goodman’s Standing Up To the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times courtesy of Progressive Book Club!
Free and Open! Doors open at 1 p.m.

Women’s Club of Minneapolis 410 Oak Grove Street, near Loring Park
Details including RSVP.

Monday, June 2, 2008

MnCOGI hosts the National Freedom of Information Coalition 2009!

The Board of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information is pleased to announce that we have been invited to play host to the 2009 national conference of the National Freedom of Information Coalition. This coalition of coalitions brings together a unique network of advocates committed to transparency in government and freedom of expression.

Each state projects a unique profile of membership, priorities and services, ranging from major organizations with large staffs and massive budgets to fledgling coalitions such as MnCOGI. Many are supported by mainstream media organizations, others by media attorneys, still others by foundations and individual/organizational memberships. All sponsor websites, most post blogs and each employs unique and creative strategies to address the common purpose of open government. Headquarters of the national coalition of coalitions is at the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

We look forward to this opportunity to define and articulate the mission of MnCOGI, to learn from other coalitions and to involve Minnesotans as speakers, panelists and attendees.

NFOIC members will be meeting in Minneapolis at the end of May or early June 2009. Any individual or organization interested in open government and First Amendment issues can get involved NOW. Specifics about the conference program and logistics will appear on this blog as they unfold.

For details of past NFOIC conferences check here. Good stuff!

Friday, May 30, 2008


Robbie LaFleur, Director of the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, has been named recipient of the 2008 Peter S. Popovich Award. The Popovich Award is given each year by the Minnesota Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists to “the person or organization that exemplifies the fight for First Amendment Rights.” SPJ will present the award at the 2008 Page One Awards Banquet on Thursday, June 12, at the Town & Country Club in St. Paul.
The award was named for the late Peter S. Popovich, a champion of open government during his years in the Minnesota House of Representatives, as the chief judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals and as the chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
In nominating LaFleur the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information noted that, “for nearly a decade Robbie has been Director of the Legislative Reference Library, the special library that serves members and staff of the Minnesota State Legislature. Though her primary clientele is the Legislature, Robbie has distinguished herself by always bearing in mind and addressing the needs of the public, including investigative journalists who are steady customers at the LRL.”

Nominators noted the immense technological changes that have occurred during LaFleur’s tenure. To address those changes “Robbie has participated in countless significant task forces and committees dealing with state information policy…Thus, the impact of her leadership extends far beyond the LRL and the Legislature.”

LaFleur and staff of the LRL have been honored with numerous awards and citations for excellence in the provision of access to government information.

For additional information contact:
Mary Treacy
Minnesota Coalition on Government Information
612 781 4234

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Minnesota Monitor – NKOTB

James Sanna’s great piece about Minnesota Monitor (The New(ish) Kid on the Block 5-26-08) is making its way through the media maze -- and with good reason. Sanna describes the origins, mission and staff of MM with clarity. He goes on to analyze the context, including MM’s “sibling” enterprises linked through the Center for Independent Media network of news websites.

It’s a good story and a great introduction to the forthcoming National Conference on Media Reform, sponsored by Free Press and coming to Minneapolis June 6-8. “Key issues include net neutrality, media consolidation, the future of the internet and the quality of journalism.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Couple of Great Blogs

No longer is it a question of getting home in time for a favorite TV show - there’s little to watch and, if it’s really good, it’ll be on YouTube. Of late, though, I’ve found myself wanting to be near the computer mid-day, anticipating two of my favorite “you’ve got mail” beeps.

One is MinnPost, always loaded with the day’s news and views. The other is the beep from State Sunshine and Open Records, a product of the Lucy Burns Institute, a Madison, Wisconsin nonprofit dedicated to sharing information, guidance, practical advice, legal developments and news about open records at the state and local level. The voice is that of Leslie Graves.
This blog is fresh, full of snippets, tidbits, tips, foi-ish gossip, and fun! Take, for example, the Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week award. Or consider a recent blog devoted to the access challenges at the school system level. Or check out this best use of FOIA entry. It’ll give you the flavor.
Signing up for the email version will give you that healthy mid-day boost of energy to press on, knowing that the good fight is not without good people, good information and good humor.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Bill Moyers' Journal

The trail of information - from creation through processing through application -- is always a path forged by real people, people who do the research, who organize the results, who select and review, who dig and piece together and create then share information that - finally - makes a difference.

Bill Moyers most recent Journal, aired last Friday, offers one of the best articulations of that process I have ever seen. The topic the chemical Bisphenol A, but it’s the process that captivated my attention.

Stars of the show are a trio of investigative journalists on the staff of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Prodded by an appropriately pushy editor they set out to track the story of Bisphenol A. Their laborious investigation involves federal government deadends, hours in the stacks of the University of Wisconsin library and the keen analytic minds of concerned journalists.

The interim result is a remarkable series on “Chemical Fallout” that exposes the facts. On May 20, 2008 a reform bill was introduced - in spite of government blockage and the compromise of corporate and professional organizations along the way.

The reporting team who broke the story are taking viewer questions about the story and their work as investigative reporters on The Moyers Blog. Check out the video and the text on the Bill Moyers Journal. This is just how it’s supposed to work!

Monday, May 19, 2008

COGI-tations - Patrice McDermott on June 9

COGI-tations: A program of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

Patrice McDermott
Director, Open the Government

Monday, June 9, 2008 time: 5-7 p.m.

100 Murphy Hall, SJMC Conference Center
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
206 Church Street, Minneapolis
University of Minnesota East Bank Campus
( Parking in the Washington Ave or East River Road Ramp or try MTC! )

Since 2006 Patrice McDermott has been Director of Open the Government, one of Washington DC’s most effective advocacy organizations committed to transparency in government and an informed public. Previously Dr. McDermott served as Deputy Director of the Office of Government Relations at the American Library Association Washington Office and as the senior information policy analyst for OMB Watch.

Patrice earned her doctorate in political science from the University of Arizona and a Master of Science in Library and Information Management from Emory University. She is the author of several books including Who Needs to Know? The State of Public Access to Federal Government Information. Dr. McDermott is also a member of the prestigious National Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame.

Sponsored by the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information
Minnesota Journalism Center
Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law
Institute for New Media Studies
University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Free and Open to the Public Information:

Saturday, May 17, 2008

What’s the holdup for Minnesota’s database?

Todd Kruse’s crusade to have the sun shine in on Minnesota state government spending got some ink in a 5/16 Star Tribune editorial, “A blogger’s quest: Where’s the database?” Kruse seeks to have the Minnesota Department of Administration fully implement last year’s State Government and Omnibus Act. To comply with the 2007 Act, the state needs to create a database to track spending on contracts and grants.

Kruse is not alone in his quest. The National Taxpayer’s Union is one of several groups tracking similar developments on the state level on its site, Good for Todd Kruse and the National Taxpayer’s Union for their diligence in pursuing transparency in government.

What’s the holdup for Minnesota’s database? It’s not lack of software; it’s readily available. The Minnesota Department of Administration estimates the cost at $1 to $1.5 million, and cites lack of dedicated funding. The cost of such a database is not as high as the Department antidicpates. The federal government implemented software that tracked spending for ~$200K last year – a fraction of the state’s estimate.

Here’s the evolution of the database tracking software. In 2006, OMB Watch devised In 2007, the federal government found it to be so compelling that it adopted it as its own. And so, was born. The same software the feds use is – and has been – available to Minnesota. The mandate from the legislature is almost a year old. Only the data appears to be lacking. Could 2008 be the year MN gets its database to track its own spending?

Helen Burke,

Friday, April 25, 2008

MN COGI on Minnpost

Earlier this week a post on this MnCOGI blog responded to a thoughtful post in Minnpost written by a unique team that included Marcia Avner, public policy director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, Brian Rusche, executive director of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, Dane Smith president of the Growth & Justice think tank; and Ray Waldron, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO.

Theirs was an impassioned rejection of the proverbial slash and burn “no new taxes” fallacy and a call for people of good will to get a grip on the public good. Mine was a reminder that those people depend on a transparent government and access to timely, accurate, reliable information by and about their government -- from the feds down to the local township and school system. Thanks to Susan Albright, MinnPost published that response today.

The good news -- a virtual sheaf of emails this afternoon affirms that lots of Minnesotans and MinnPost readers depend on and care deeply about the issue.

The goal of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MnCOGI) is to shed light on the reality that a solid base of information is the absolute sine qua non of a democracy. The pillars that support that base are threatened by a host of forces -- the arrogance of government behind closed doors, concentration of media, instant dissemination of misinformation, classroom focus on testing over critical thinking skills. Add your bete noir to the Litany of Threats..

Hope lies in collaboration among those who shape the conversations and the decision-making mores of the public -- teachers, journalists, bloggers, politicians, librarians, researchers, lawyers, religious leaders, these and countless other people of good will who seek the truth, speak the truth, and help others to understand and ultimately shape a decent, caring, informed, even wise electorate that lessens fear and embraces freedom.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Minnesota needs to invest in and nourish the common good

Today’s MinnPost (4-22-08) carries a noteworthy commentary by a quartet of community leaders who, with a common voice, remind us that Minnesotans and our leaders “need to invest smartly in education, job training, transportation and human capital. To do this we need to think again, as the generation before us did, as well-rounded citizens willing to invest in and nourish the common good.

The vocal foursome includes Marcia Avner, public policy director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, Brian Rusche, executive director of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, Dane Smith president of the Growth & Justice think tank; and Ray Waldron, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO. When these folks speak in unison, it behooves one to listen.

What is implicit in their comments is a base of common knowledge shared by those “well-rounded citizens willing to invest in and nourish the common good.”

In this information age that base of common knowledge is at terrible risk. Today Rupert Murdock picked up another NYC newspaper while his managing editor tendered his resignation at the WSJ. Today the mainstream print media in the Twin Cities languish as owners sacrifice journalistic standards to stockholders’ fiscal demands. Today our community’s professional journalists work in tandem with citizen journalists to cover, interpret, and share with a changing public a range of news and views and understandings of a world - and neighborhoods - in flux. Today those outside the digital loop resort to the only sources of information they can afford - a mix of radio and TV owned and ruled by a dwindling circle who know only too well the power of information.

The life-giving force of this community of well-rounded citizens committed to the common good is the free flow of reliable, timely, relevant information -- cogent analysis of the decision-making process, accurate data on the impact of public policy and the living conditions of Minnesotans, serious research on the goods and products that build a robust economy, a communal eye on the flow of power and money and influence.

Minnesotans care about transparency in government, access to information and the threats. The commitment to understand and nourish the common good demands individual and collective time and mental energy. These four leaders remind us of another essential nutrient of the common good: “As citizens, we need to make room for elected leaders to do what many of them know to be right for Minnesota.”

Information blossoms as knowledge and ideas that exist to be shared and invested. Something to ponder as we celebrate statehood and honor our heritage of “well rounded Minnesotans willing to invest in and nourish the common good”.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Nothing to read in Cuba, Part Two

(Note: I didn't realize this essay would require posting in two parts - read the post below first! Robbie LaFleur)

Poverty in Cuba is crushing. The infrastructure of Havana and the small towns through which we traveled was in depressingly disastrous shape. We visited a group of elderly people in a ‘home church’ in Havana. They can’t afford the modest bus fare to get to the Cathedral. They support one another spiritually and in other ways. Our group was moved by these parishioners and wanted to make a donation. When asked about their greatest needs, they said basic pain killers, like Ibuprofen. Remarkably, they could not tell us what a large bottle would cost. The pills are so expensive that no one buys more than a few at a time.

I have the highest respect, admiration and love for the people I met in Cuba. Their warmth and hospitality humbled us each day. And I respect the Cuban government’s long-term dedication to health care and literacy. But lack of freedom of movement and lack of access to information are other forms of poverty, and create a situation that makes people guarded and cautious. The harshest government criticism I ever heard was the often-repeated phrase, “These are hard times for Cuba.” (Compare that to Minnesota bloggers talking about the Legislature!)

As a librarian for the Legislature, I spend a great deal of time promoting government transparency. Legislative staff members from many offices work tirelessly to find more ways to get legislative information online and to reach citizens. As a board member of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, I work with a group devoted to citizen access to information. We present an annual “Freedom of Information” award. Through the lens of my experience, I was amazed at information isolation of Cubans.

So I commend the Minnesota House of Representatives. Trade and open borders are incredibly important in helping the people of Cuba. Why should Cuba be singled out for onerous trade restrictions? When a Cuban bishop visited the Twin Cities last fall he asked, “What about human rights issues in China?” Rep. Heidgerken echoed that sentiment on the floor of the House, noting “I have a bigger issue with China than Cuba.”

Significantly freer trade could not help but improve access to information for Cubans. Think of the amount of personal business we now do via the Web. How long can the Cuban government continue to restrict Web access and also offer increased business opportunities?

Some recent articles on Cuba are optimistic in tone. The March 3 issue of Business Week featured “After the Smoke Clears,” predicting economic growth potential in spite of current difficult conditions for Cubans. I hope that’s true! On the other hand, current government repression of opposition groups is detailed in the May, 2008, issue of Harper’s, “The Battle of Ideas: Searching for the Opposition in Post-Fidel Cuba.”

So thanks to all the Minnesota legislators who support greater trade between Minnesota and Cuba. Rep. Kahn said that by passing the resolution, Minnesota is sending the message that it wants to open up “economic, intellectual and social” communications with Cuba. But in addition to farm products, I hope that when travel opens up that we can send LOTS of Minnesotans with plasterboard and paint!

Robbie LaFleur (

Nothing to read in Cuba, Part One

It was heartening to see the passage of the resolution supporting trade in Cuba in the Minnesota House of Representatives on April 17, 86-9. (More information from MPR and the House of Representatives Session Daily) Several members have visited Cuba. Rep. Phyllis Kahn, author of the resolution, is a tireless advocate for more open trade. Rep. Erhardt visited five years ago. Representatives Magnus and Juhnke visited just this month with a trade delegation from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Their personal experiences strengthened their resolve to improve trade with Cuba – to do what we can to help Cubans.

I visited Cuba for ten days in January with a group from St. Mark’s Cathedral, sent to strengthen relationships with Cubans generally, and in particular, the Episcopalian Diocese. The trip was definitely life-changing. I went with a very open mind – after all, isn’t health care available to all? Isn’t there an extremely high level of literacy? I came back with a degree of anger I had not anticipated. Does it matter if there is a high level of literacy if there is nothing to read? Perhaps librarians are used to a high level of information saturation, but don’t we all enjoy access to hundreds of newspapers and websites online? Americans drown in books and magazines. Cubans do not. Before we left for Cuba, our group members stocked up on useful items to give as gifts – shampoo, soap, aspirin, etc. Only one person, Ellen, chose the category of Spanish-language reading materials; she brought a Spanish language women’s magazine. After checking out the clothes and make-up tips in Siempre Mujer over Cuban rum one evening, we left it in the dorm lounge area in the cathedral where we were staying. There were no other reading materials around. Later, after midnight, I walked through the lounge area and found the Dean of the cathedral sitting by a reading lamp, engrossed in the magazine. The next morning the church cleaning woman was poring over the magazine. Later she found Ellen and hugged her warmly. “Gracias! I love you.”

Does it matter if there is a high level of literacy if access to information is cruelly restricted? Web access is not allowed. Even clergy in Havana have to go to a tourist hotel and purchase Internet time to search the Web. I believe it was $4.00 for a few minutes. Keep in mind that average salaries are around $20/month. We stayed with a family in a small village in the countryside. The eldest daughter was beginning her college at a regional university, where she planned to become a lawyer and was studying human rights. Is it possible get a well-rounded legal education without unfettered access to the Web?

E-mail is allowed, but perhaps not trusted. After Raul Castro gained more power recently a friend sent the text of relevant New York Times and Los Angeles Times articles to a Cuban colleague. His response was pretty immediate, but guarded. “Are you doing well? How is your family? ”

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Journalism That Matters MInnesota Gathering

Here's another great 21st century journalism conference coming to Minnesota on June 4-6. Here's a quick blurb from their flyer and a link for more info

One of the first national gatherings for local, online citizen journalists and entrepreneurs,
sometimes called "placebloggers." Designed for existing and prospective journalists and entrepreneurs. Learn more...

Mark Glaser on Net Neutrality

Some of us have possibly put our brains in neutral to avoid information overflow on the topic of Net Neutrality. I found the recent post by Mark Glaser in Free Press to be extremely helpful as a digest and succinct interpretation of the complex issues surrounding this polarizing issue. The author includes a basic list of resources for keeping abreast of the topic. Check it out.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Links from Sunshine State

State Sunshine and Open Records did a great job gathering links this week and we just wanted to share them: Tuesday links round-up.

Media Reform conference set for Minneapolis June 6-8

The Media Reform conference set for Minneapolis June 6-8 is great in and of itself. Even more, it is the catalyst for a number of related gatherings, including a presentation by Patrice McDermott of Open the Government sponsored by the Minnesota Coalition on Government. Details on that TBA

Meantime, I’ve just learned of another really interesting pre-conference, aimed at the “New Pamphleteers” identified as Entrepreneurs Who Combine Journalism, Democracy, Place and Blogs” The conference, open to citizen journalists and those who care about informed citizen journalism, will be June 4-6 at the U of M Journalism Center. Planners have arranged a very attractive package deal for anyone registering for the pre-conference and the Media Reform conference itself. Details and registration

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Our First COGI-tation

The other night we had the first of our “COGI-tations” presentations. We are off to a great start. Legislative Auditor James Nobles spoke -- he spoke with authority, clarity of purpose and commitment to the people of Minnesota. It was the most informative and refreshing presentation I have heard in a very long time.

The work of the Legislative Auditor is non-partisan and essential to good government. His work involves fiscal auditing as well as inspection and evaluation of state government in its many manifestations. For the first time ever I understand now that the elected state auditor audits local government while the legislative auditor is responsible to but not for the Legislature. His purview is state government agencies, commissions and all those instrumentalities that operate with state funds -- everything from charter schools to nonprofits that operate with state funds.

Nobles offered on the one hand an articulate intro to state government organization and processes. More than this, his commitment to the highest quality public service and the importance of good government was both refreshing and inspiring. For the moment at least, I have renewed faith in the democracy at work.

Our first COGI-tation, co-sponsored by Common Cause Minnesota, set a high standard I hope we can uphold.

Notes on the Newseum

Not that I was invited or anything but I’m still celebrating vicariously the opening of the spectacular Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue in Our Nation’s Capital. It’s a fitting testimonial to our assumed commitment to the First Amendment as a fundamental upon which all else rests. I know the real estate cost a lot, but it’s a small price to pay if the suits actually peer out of their limos and think for even one split second about the principle.

The Newseum reminds us of the essential role of investigative journalism, a free press and transparency in government - and it does so from a vantage point smack between the White House and the Capitol with a first-hand view of a string of bureaucracies.

Print and electronic media - the traditional mainstream - are in chaos. And we the people know what we’re missing. Some 10,000+ of us showed up to visit the Museum on Day One. Read all about it in today’s Washington Post. Or you might want to know who WAS invited…

Friday, April 11, 2008

Minnesota News Council

A chance to learn makes a good day - and that was my day today. Recently I was named to the Minnesota News Council and today was orientation, a real learning experience for this “public” member of this 24 member advisory group, a newspaper reader among journalists, listening in on the conversation of professionals at their best.

The Minnesota News Council, created in 1970, is a nonprofit organization supported entirely by voluntary contributions from media organizations, businesses and individuals. The purposes of the MNC are to present complaints about accuracy and fairness to news organizations, to hold public hearings re. unresolved complaints, and to conduct public forums to foster trust in journalism.

Our orientation involved a mock hearing. The scenario offered this newbie a chance to see the group process at work and to listen in on the keen questions and observations of my new colleagues.

I need to learn more about news councils in other states. I know Minnesota’s is the oldest, but that’s about all I know now. I learned it’s modeled on a British prototype. In a litigious environment, when everyone waits to hear the “verdict”, it’s a unique forum for open dialogue sans finger pointing and financial settlements.

I find myself mulling it over in my mind -- the process, the perspectives, the purpose of the Minnesota News Council. A first blush, it seems to me an altogether intelligent and constructive venue for giving the people a voice and the press a chance to engage in honest dialogue with their subjects and their readers. I’m eager to learn more and, in time, to plunk my own oar in the deliberative waters.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Cogi-tations Meeting with Jim Nobles

Last night (April 8) Jim Nobles spoke about his work as the Minnesota Legislative Auditor. His conversation with our group was thoughtful and inspiring. He talked about the mission of the office as good government. In a democracy elections are important, but good government also requires effective mechanisms in place, which includes an oversight office like the OLA. He felt privileged, "It's rare to be free of the pull of partisan politics and find objective facts." Their mission is to strengthen government accountability.

When asked how he ensures that the reports and writing of the staff are objective and free of bias, he mentioned two points. One way to defeat bias is with an absolute commitment to
accuracy. He also has many people review all the reports, and even his half-page memos.

He talked about a point he wants to make to policymakers who are committed to cutting budgets and making government smaller. Even if large cuts are made, "At the end of the day, Minnesota government will still be really big, really complicated, and really important."
Like it or not, government delivers important functions, and they are complex processes, as complex as the systems in large corporations. It is the role of legislators to keep pressure on government to work well, and to expect high performance of agencies.

Robbie LaFleur

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Keynote Address: “The Light at the End of the Tunnel: the Outlook for FOI.”

Keynote Address: “The Light at the End of the Tunnel: the Outlook for FOI.”
Presented by Jane E. Kirtley, Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Minnesota.

Delivered at the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information “Freedom of Information Day & Award Ceremony,” March 14, 2008, Minneapolis Central Library.

With higher temperatures and March sunshine, it really seems like our long Minnesota winter is coming to a close. This brings us a sense of optimism, and hope.

And it’s a metaphor for the future of freedom of information. I believe it is no coincidence that James Madison, drafter of the First Amendment, was born on March 16.

This year, for the first time in a long time, there seems to be a real prospect that transparency in government could be restored.

On the last day of 2007, President Bush signed the OPEN Government Act, making important procedural changes to strengthen the effectiveness of the Federal Freedom of Information Act. There are new penalties for agencies that drag their feet in replying to requests for records – or to put it in a more positive way, new incentives to encourage agencies to comply with the law in a timely fashion.

There is enhanced Congressional oversight – an essential to the proper functioning of FOIA, no matter who is in the White House and no matter which party is in the majority – because when the legislature fails to keep an eye on the executive branch, Freedom of Information is always at risk.

There is a new definition of “representative of the news media” – which is important, not because the press does or should have greater rights of access to government records than the rest of us, but because Congress recognizes that those who gather information in order to disseminate it to the widest possible audience deserve to receive fee breaks to make it possible for them to do so.

There are even new “public liaisons” for each agency, and a new FOI ombudsman to run interference between requesters and the government.

The bi-partisan team of Sen. Patrick Leahy and John Cornyn have joined forces again to introduce a new bill that will require members of Congress who introduce proposed legislation to create new exemptions to FOIA to “explicitly and clearly” state just that – in other words, to put a stop to the practice of burying stealth exemptions in complex bills.

These are all exciting and encouraging developments.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Eight years of government secrecy is not going to go away overnight. The rallying cry of 9/11 was the pretext for policies amounting to an information blackout on an unprecedented scale: secret intelligence, secret prisons, secret torture, secret trials, and secret surveillance – all in the name of protecting national security.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: secrecy does not equal security. In fact, it almost invariably undermines it.

We know that the current administration in Washington is hostile to the very idea of the public’s right to know. It is ironic that, less than a month after signing the OPEN Government Act, President Bush directed that the funding for that FOI ombudsman should be shifted from the independent National Archives and into the Department of Justice – a Department that, at least since October 2001, has demonstrated over and over again its contempt for open government and the public’s right to know.

This is the same Department that, instead of enforcing the FOIA, has zealously pursued leakers – people who have chosen to circumvent restrictive policies to make information to the public – and threatened those who receive leaks with prosecution under the Espionage laws.
This is the same Department that has condoned using sweeping subpoenas to try to force journalists to reveal their confidential sources – and not surprisingly, has obstinately opposed the enactment of a federal reporter’s shield law to protect journalists from the prospect of lengthy imprisonment or crippling monetary fines for simply doing their jobs.

Some will argue that the restrictions and secrecy were necessary. Others contend that they were purely opportunistic. Right or wrong, for better or worse, the tenure of this administration is coming to an end. Later this year, a national election will determine who will decide the future of FOI. Those who care about open government are hoping that the candidates will commit themselves to an agenda that will reject the directives, policies, and practices that have turned the executive branch into a virtual bunker of impenetrable secrecy, and reopen it to public scrutiny.

It is always risky to speculate about how a particular candidate will address these issues once he or she is in office. On the hustings, no candidate is against open government. Words like “accountability” and “transparency” may pepper their speeches. And, as they utter them, they may even believe them.

But I’ve observed government long enough to know that even the best intentions are often unfulfilled once an administration assumes office. Openness and accountability sound terrific in the abstract. But maintaining the commitment in the midst of the turmoil of political Washington is the challenge.

Nevertheless, I remain optimistic. A new generation of voters, who are accustomed to taking and sharing information through the Internet, will not settle, I predict, for business as usual. The old techniques of obfuscation and concealment simply won’t wash with young people who seek out the answers for themselves and who demand transparency from those who govern them.

That said, I do remain concerned about some things.

I worry that the judiciary, which for more than 75 years has maintained an almost unbroken tradition of expanding and enhancing the rights of freedom of speech, and of the press, is retrenching, rethinking, and in many cases, restricting those rights. Whether it is the failure to recognize a First Amendment-based reporters privilege, or a reluctance to allow meaningful access to digitized records because of theoretical concerns about security or privacy, or the continued refusal to expand the right of the public to observe judicial proceeding by allowing cameras into our courts – it all adds up to a net loss for the public’s right to know.

I worry that legitimate concerns about security at the upcoming Republican and Democratic National Conventions will prompt our law enforcement officials to extend and expand their surveillance activities in overly zealous and inappropriate ways that will intimidate and chill the rights of citizens to engage in peaceful protest.

And I worry that just at a time when my fellow citizens need in-depth news reporting – the news that is essential to making informed decisions – economic challenges will result in shrinking the resources that are necessary to support the kind of outstanding investigative reporting that we are honoring today.

You may share these worries. You may have others.

But however substantial and genuine these worries may be, I remain optimistic, because I recognize that those of us gathered here today, and many others like us around the state and around the nation, will not tolerate another decade of secrecy, predicated on fear.
So much of the secrecy that exists today was based on panic. It was justified as necessary to address threats on a scale that most of us found unfathomable – and terrifying. It shook our nation to the core.

But it is past time to get back to our first principles. It is past time to recognize that this nation is strong, that it was conceived in revolution, but born to live as a country bounded by the rule of law.

It is my hope that our return to these principles – our return to sanity – is already underway.
Our long journey through the dark tunnel of secrecy is coming to an end. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Thank you.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

COGI-tations: A program of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

James Nobles
Legislative Auditor, State of Minnesota
“Bringing Light to How Government Works”

Tuesday, April 8, 2008
5:00 p.m.

TIES Administrative Building
1667 Larpenteur (SW corner of Snelling & Larpenteur)
St. Paul

Since 1983, Jim Nobles has diligently served the State of Minnesota as Legislative Auditor. The nonpartisan Legislative Auditor provides a critical link between the inner workings of state government and the taxpayers.

The work of the Legislative Auditor includes financial audits, program evaluations, and special reviews in cases of alleged misuse of state funds or resources, or alleged violations of the state code of conduct for employees in the Executive Branch. The Legislative Auditor’s authority extends to virtually all state funded programs and studies that affect state government. As we have recently seen in the news, audits in progress include the state’s JOBZ program, Green Acres and agricultural land preservation programs, charter schools, PERA and financial management of healthcare programs. We can also expect a legislative audit of our state’s highways and bridges to be released soon.

Though reports of the Legislative Auditor may at times escape the headlines, they capture the attention of elected officials, bureaucrats and advocacy groups because of the critical watchdog function played by Nobles’ office.

Come meet Jim Nobles and learn more about the mission of this unique agent of openness, who is responsible to a great extent for transparency in government, for public disclosure of problems, and for investigative reports essential to an informed citizenry.

Co-sponsored by
Common Cause Minnesota &
Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

Free and open to the public

Friday, March 7, 2008

MN FOI Celebration Updated!

I know this looks familar - but there are some updates


Freedom of Information Award Recognizes
Bridge Collapse Coverage, Pro se Legal Services

Silha Center’s Jane Kirtley Envisions “The Light at the End of the Tunnel”

The people’s right to know assumes a vast network of agencies and individuals is committed to affirmation of that right. Recipients of the 2008 John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award employ that right to the benefit of readers. The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MnCOGI) will present this year’s awards to highlight the public’s right to know and to kickoff Sunshine Week 2008.

By any measure, the collapse of the 35W Bridge is the story of 2007 - covered by every news medium from every journalistic angle. With this award the MnCOGI specifically notes the ways in which these journalists have enhanced public understanding of the tragedy through their explicit use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Minnesota Data Practices Act to gain access to public information.

Recipients of the John R. Finnegan FOI Award include several investigative journalists including Associated Press staffers Martiga Lohn and Brian Bakst and Star Tribune reporters Dan Browning, Kevin Diaz, Patrick Doyle, Mike Kaszuba, Tony Kennedy and Paul McEnroe.

The Coalition will also confer two Honorable Mention Awards. An Honorable Mention Award will be given to Susan Albright, former Editorial Page Editor at the Star Tribune. Albright, now with MinnPost, is recognized for her articulate appreciation of the dependence of a free press on access to government information and for her consistent editorial support of the principles of open government.

Recipients of the second Honorable Mention Award are Susan Ledray and Katrina Zabinski, coordinators of the innovative “Self Help Center” (SHC) in Minnesota’s Fourth Judicial District. As designers of the SHC Ledray and Zabinski explicitly used government information to both define and meet the needs of a targeted population. The nomination document notes that the SHC serves “thousands of pro se litigants in Minnesota to move through court more efficiently, more effectively and more informed.” In the words of Judge Edward Lynch, the SHC “provides information, resources and assistance to thousands of litigants representing themselves in court proceedings.” The Self Help Center is now available in all Minnesota counties.
Awards will be presented at Freedom of Information Day ceremonies on Friday, March 14, Noon-1:00 at the Minneapolis Central Library.
Keynote speaker for the event is Jane Kirtley, Director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota. Kirtley is an internationally-known expert and lecturer on issues of media law and freedom of information. Prior to joining the U of M School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 1999, Kirtley was the Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a columnist for American Journalism Review. Her presentation is entitled “The Light at the End of the Tunnel: The Outlook for FOI.”
John R. Finnegan, Sr., for whom the award is named, is a Minnesota journalist and renowned defender of the First Amendment and the role of informed citizens in a democracy.

The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation representing individuals and organizations committed to open access to public information in print, electronic and digital formats. The Coalition involves media representatives, attorneys, librarians, computer professionals, state and local government officials, educators and others who care about transparency in government, information access and the role of an informed citizenry in a democracy.

# # #

Contact: Mary Treacy
Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Freedom of Information Award Recognizes Bridge Collapse Coverage, Pro se Legal Services


Freedom of Information Award Recognizes Bridge Collapse Coverage, Pro se Legal Services

Silha Center’s Jane Kirtley Envisions “The Light at the End of the Tunnel”

The people’s right to know assumes a vast network of agencies and individuals committed to affirmation of that right. Recipients of the 2008 John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award reflect the many facets of information access. The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MnCOGI) will present this year’s awards as a highlight of Freedom of Information and the kickoff of Sunshine Week 2008.

By any measure, the collapse of the 35W Bridge is the story of 2007 - covered by every news medium from every journalistic angle. Recipients of the FOI Award include several investigative journalists including Associated Press staffers Martiga Lohn and Brian Bakst and Star Tribune reporters Dan Browning, Kevin Diaz, Patrick Doyle, Mike Kaszuba and Paul McEnroe. All of these journalists have enhanced public understanding of the tragedy through their explicit use of the Freedom of Information Act and the Minnesota Data Practices Act to gain access to public information.

The Coalition will also confer two Honorable Mention Awards. An Honorable Mention Award will be given to Susan Albright, former Editorial Page Editor at the Star Tribune. Albright, now with MinnPost, is recognized for her articulate appreciation of the dependence of a free press on access to government information and for her consistent editorial support of the principles of open government.

Recipients of the second Honorable Mention Award are Susan Ledray and Katrina Zabinski, coordinators of the innovative “Self Help Center” (SHC) in Minnesota’s Fourth Judicial District. As designers of the SHC Ledray and Zabinski explicitly used government information to both define and meet the needs of a targeted population. The nomination document notes that the SHC serves “thousands of pro se litigants in Minnesota to move through court more efficiently, more effectively and more informed.” In the words of Judge Edward Lynch, the SHC “provides information, resources and assistance to thousands of litigants representing themselves in court proceedings.” The Self Help Center is now available in all Minnesota counties.

Awards will be presented at Freedom of Information Day ceremonies on Friday, March 14, Noon-1:00 at the Minneapolis Central Library.
Keynote speaker for the event is Jane Kirtley, Director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota. Kirtley is an internationally-known expert and lecturer on issues of media law and freedom of information. Prior to joining the U of M School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 1999, Kirtley was the Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a columnist for American Journalism Review. Her presentation is entitled “The Light at the End of the Tunnel: The Outlook for FOI.”
John R. Finnegan, Sr., for whom the award is named, is a Minnesota journalist and renowned defender of the First Amendment and the role of informed citizens in a democracy.

The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation representing individuals and organizations committed to open access to public information in print, electronic and digital formats. The Coalition involves media representatives, attorneys, librarians, computer professionals, state and local government officials, educators and others who care about transparency in government, information access and the role of an informed citizenry in a democracy.

# # #

Contact: Mary Treacy
Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

Friday, February 29, 2008

Reminder: Still time to Register for Afloat on the Wireless Pond - Saturday, March 1

Minnesota’s Hidden Heroes in the News

  • There are many things about MinnPost that are worthy of note - the first rate team of investigative journalists, the style, the tone, the format. From my perspective as an information junky, MinnPost adds a subtle but significant spin by focusing not just on the news but on the behind-the-scenes work. Yesterday’s blog was about hidden heroes of Minnesota history; today’s MinnPost offers some timely examples:
  • There’s a great piece from the Minnesota Historical Society, a MinnPost partner, about how to locate death certificate information collected over the decades by meticulous government employees, now organized and made accessible through the Minnesota Historical Society. This incredible resource, representing countless hours of work by skilled and committed public servants, is now accessible on the web.
  • A second article describes the ways in which the Poetry Foundation is opening up its extensive, and carefully maintained, poetry collection by engaging comic strip illustrators to add their creative interpretation to sometimes inscrutable literary works. Somebody logged and indexed and catalogs those hundreds of thousands of poems now enhanced and shared online.
  • The third story spotlights a different “hidden heroine,” in this case a Spanish-English translator, a woman who connected the dots to solve the puzzle of the mysterious illness that struck packing house workers in Austin. If you ever want to observe the mind of a “hidden heroine” at work, here is a superb example
  • And finally, MinnPost itself plays an essential role by sharing this latent information with a readership that will use that information to achieve its potential. Today is just one example of an ongoing emphasis of the journal.

All of which raises digital age questions: How will MinnPost and other digital resources be preserved, organized, made accessible for future Minnesotans who want to know about what’s going on today? What is the public good of that preserved and organized information? What is the responsibility of public institutions to take the long view? How are we addressing the preparation of Minnesotans to understand the power of information or their information rights?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Announcing: Hidden Heroes of Minnesota History Wiki *

Minnesota Sesquicentennial Question: Who is a “hidden hero” of Minnesota history? How do we know what we know about our state? Who gathered all those files, that data, the maps, the diaries, the photos that tell the story, that give us a glimpse into our past? And who is doing that now in our digital age? What were the skills of the archivist? The selector? The curator? The indexer? The librarian? The genealogist? The publisher?

Most of all, who are these people. For the most part, they didn’t make history - and they surely didn’t make it into the history books -- but they are essential links to understanding Minnesota at 150 years or at our Bicentennial in 2058.

These are the questions that keep coming to me as we’ve prepared for the March 2008 Afloat on the wireless pond conference. Compulsive surfer that I am I’ve sifted through the digital record to spot and shine a flicker of light on those hidden heroes and heroines. Knowing that I’m barely touching the surface, I’ve made no attempt to go beyond the digital record.

The Afloat conference is upon us now so I’m taking a break in the surfing expedition to post the little nuggets I’ve dug up so far. Just as the Minnesota History Center encourages the public to add to their Sesquicentennial wiki of famous folks I’m asking you to contribute to this mini-wiki by putting a name, maybe a face, on some of those self-effacing public servants, scholars, collectors, archivists, genealogists or much-maligned packrats who’ve seen to it that we know the stories. Be sure to include those who are exploring with gusto the ways in which information age technology is expanding and enhancing access.

That’s what the Afloat conference is all about - the jumpstart to a hidden hero wiki! Thanks for your help!

* My definition of “hero” is inclusive, particularly since an extraordinary number of these heroes are very female

Mary Treacy

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Traditional Press & Bloggers Met Monday...

3-2-1 Dive into the wireless pond! It’s not too late to sign up for the “Afloat on the wireless pond” conference set for Saturday, March 1. Curious about the theme? Remember that the genesis of the idea emerged from the 2007 conference focused on Henry Thoreau’s little-known travels in Minnesota. The idea was, and is, Thoreau-inspired -- a time, place and stimulus for Minnesotans to reflect on the reality of living in an information world. We spend far more time mastering the tools than giving a passing thought to the social, economic, political and aesthetic upheaval in which we float. The setting on the beautiful Luther Seminary campus sets the stage; the diverse presenters play unique roles - a geographer, data manager, philosopher, educator, city planner, poet, journalist and other thoughtful colleagues willing to share their expertise and their insights. How do you plan to spend the extra day this week? There’s still time to sign up.

The “traditional” press and the bloggers met Monday night in the opulent splendor of the new Minnesota Public Radio to share insights on standards and ethics in journalism. Bob Collins played the ringleader/MPR blogger role while guest Dan Gillmor focused on content. Gillmor has clearly given much thought to what is and what is possible to support an informed society -- and a readership that wants to learn. Just about everybody had something to say - several men and at least four women (one a “panelist”) got to speak. Maybe it was the cold outside, but no one seemed in any hurry to leave, even after pretty much everything had been said. Many thanks to the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists which set the stage for this diverse audience. It’s the jumpstart of an essential and more substantive conversation, virtual or mano a mano. The questions raised, sometimes answered, testify to the need for more.

Molnau Sold Farm Near Road She Pushed.
Read this from the information access - investigative journalism - perspective.

For Political Candidates, Saying Can Become Believing. I’ve often thought about this because I sometimes tell a story with such enthusiasm and regularity that I believe it myself. In fact, it often gets better with the telling. Ask any storyteller or Irishman.

GAO Finds Data Protection Lagging The balance between openness and privacy is being played out in Congress. Minnesota’s very own Senator Norm Coleman, along with Susan Collins (R-ME), chairs the committee that called for a study of data protection after the 2006 theft of a data-laden computer from a VA employee. Collins notes that “the findings released in this report are very troubling -- indicating that agency after agency has failed to make securing citizens' personal information a high priority."

Video on the Net: The Content Question, by Jeffrey A. Hart. On one level this isn’t specifically about access to government information, but it’s certainly grist for the mill of anyone who cares about an informed public. Hart offers a straightforward analysis of the topic, in layman’s terms.
On Tuesday, February 26, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on Electronic Records Preservation at the White House. The Committee, led by Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA-30), has been investigating what happened to millions of missing White House emails and what the White House is now doing to make sure it is preserving its records in compliance with the Presidential Records Act.

New from Sunshine Week -- a new partnership with Helium that creates a special page where anyone can write about open government issues or this year’s election theme. The Sunshine Week promos on the SW website deserve an affirmative vote. Check them out.

Monday, February 25, 2008

They Also Serve Who Only Stand

The cadence doesn’t quite work, but it’s still a good idea. For a long time now I’ve been compiling what’s heretofore been known as “Hidden Heroes of Minnesota History”. It’s a Sesquicentennial diversion about which I’m getting more serious. Thus, I’m shedding the allegedly sexist “heroes” title for the more ubiquitous “They.” The point is the same:

We wouldn’t know about the Big Heroes if we didn’t have a legacy of countless unnamed heroes - individuals, organizations, funders, visionaries - who have pack ratted, collected, preserved, organized, tabulated, digitized, mapped, cataloged, indexed, reprinted, reformatted or otherwise opened the doors to the recorded history of our state -- or the cosmos, for that matter.

The process of making history available demands vision, collaboration, and a commitment to the past and to the future. Headline seekers need not apply. If egomania is not your thing, you too can join the ranks of the “also servers” by adding to this fledgling compilation of hidden heroes, heroines, and heroic organizations.

I’m about to post my totally random compilation, leaving it to others to amend and/or organize the list. Most important, please add your suggestions by emailing me with a jot or a treatise describing the “also servers” who have opened the door for you.

Preserving Minnesota’s digital resources: Along similar lines, the Minnesota office of Enterprise Technology recently submitted a mandated report to the Minnesota Legislature. Preserving the Present: Creating, Accessing and Maintaining Minnesota’s Electronic Documents, now available online, reflects the collective work of the agency and a survey of stakeholders. Citing the dynamic nature of technology innovation, the report specifically declines to recommend the adoption of a particular format standard. The study concludes that “the choice or use of a standard must not be to adopt a standard for the sake of adopting a standard. Any choice must be in the context of what value such a decision adds to government.”

The report goes on to identify several concrete, practical steps that the state can take to address electronic records policy issues.

Our Cells, Ourselves. Joel Garreau of the Washington Post poses a whole lot of tough questions for a Sunday morning. Taking a global look at the impact of the cell phone, Garreau ponders the question of whether the cell phone, now a global factor, frees or tethers us. He doesn’t answer that question, either, but he does leave me turning it over in my mind. Turn your cell off for the few minutes it will take to read this thoughtful piece.

Quote: "When information which properly belongs to the public is systematically withheld by those in power, the people soon become ignorant of their own affairs, distrustful of those who manage them, and - eventually - incapable of determining their own destinies." Pres. Richard Nixon, 1972

Scientists Call on next President to End Political Interference in Science; Guarantee Scientists' Freedoms. A panel of leading scientists recently issued a significant call for openness at the annual conference of the AAAS (February 15). Speaking at the announcement event Francesca Grifo, director of the Scientific Integrity Program at UCS, observed that “good federal policy depends upon reliable and robust scientific work… When science is falsified, fabricated or censored, Americans' health and safety suffer.”

Mary Treacy

Friday, February 22, 2008

COGI Quote - Feb 22

Stephen Aftergood provides these transsparency quotes from the Big Three in a recent issue of Nieman Watchdog (2-7-08). Keep these in mind during pre and post-election days.

“Excessive administration secrecy... feeds conspiracy theories and reduces the public's confidence in government,” Sen. John McCain

"I'll turn the page on a growing empire of classified information,” Sen. Barack Obama.

“We'll protect sources and methods, but we won't use sources and methods as pretexts to hide the truth.” “We need a return to transparency and a system of checks and balances, to a president who respects Congress's role of oversight and accountability,” Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Can anyone provide parallel quotes from Minnesota senatorial wannabe's?

Is the spectrum just too complex for reporters?

Is the spectrum just too complex for reporters? Article in the Nieman Watchdog and flagged in Media Reform.The title is provocative and it’s a good question. I would argue that the spectrum itself isn’t all that complicated - it’s the USE of the spectrum that baffles reporters and advocacy groups. Roger Sween spoke of the “implicitless” of information - and of the radio waves that deliver it. We feel compelled, somehow, to separate the discussion of means from the discussion of content. The techies vs. the nerds…In government, it’s IT in one silo, the public record, data, useful government information in a separate silo. Meanwhile, the radio waves are perceived as one-directional. Only now, the keepers of the word, especially the print press, are straddling what, in my mind, is the most pernicious of the several digital divides.

Self-proclaimed professional agitator Sheldon Mains started a digital deluge today by announcing he’s cancelled his Strib subscription. His rationale struck a chord with E-Democracy readers, virtually all of them recovering Strib readers. As a longtime cancelled Strib subscriber I must admit an occasional pang of regret that I can’t recancel - unless, of course, I resubscribe, in which case I would have to endure that barrage of dunning phone calls when I recancel…..

Mary Treacy

Net Neutrality Is a Civil Rights Issue

Net Neutrality Is a Civil Rights Issue. There’s tons written about network neutrality, currently being fiercely debated at the federal - especially FCC - level. This article by Mark Lloyd and Joseph Torres deals specifically and insightfully with the digital divide, stressing the inherent link (sometimes overlooked) between information and telecom access.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Afloat in the Wireless Pond - A Week Away

Not your “in the box” day: We have room for a few more participants in the March 1 conference affectionately (?) known as “Afloat in the wireless pond.” All the details at If you’re looking for the same old, same old this is not your venue, but if you’re looking for original perspectives on our digital environment, check it out! Where else will you find a noted journalist, a geographer, a poet, a philosopher, a data manager, city planner, librarian and high school students - plus numerous demos and a room full of creative thinkers -- all focused on the realities and possibilities of information age life in Minnesota. Note: Students are invited to participate at no charge.

Reuters Group PLC Taken Over by Canada’s Thomson Corp

Thomson Gains Clearance From Wall Street Journal, February 20, 2008 by Corey Boles and Jessica Hodgson

Competition authorities in the U.S. and Europe cleared the takeover of Reuters Group PLC by Canada’s Thomson Corp., which would create a financial-data giant, on the condition that the companies divest some assets. Local implications???

Kind Words for COGI

It’s always great to receive a pat on the back – even better when the “patter” is held in high esteem -- and better yet when you can share it….We rec’d this note today from the Free Government Information, i.e. the federal government document librarians .

In the spirit of openness, we’re sharing….We Salute MnCOGI by dcornwall

...About the only quibble we have with MnCOGI is that we believe that collection, maintenance and preservation of information are responsibilities too important to be left to each government office. They must be
assisted in those tasks by third parties with fewer axes to grind, like
libraries. But this is a minor quibble given the level of involvement by
libraries in MnCOGI.

One last thing we appreciate about MnCOGI is that they have signed up
nonlibrarian organizations like the MN Newspapers Association to their efforts.
Congratulations on that. Keep up your important work!

Thank you FGI - we appreciate your plaudits and take seriously your quibble.

Nominations open

Minnesotans promote and protect the right to know in strange and wondrous way. Think about the individuals and organizations that carry the torch in times of great social, political and technological change. You still have time to submit a nomination for the 19th annual John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award. Nominations due Monday, March 3. The awardee(s) will be honored at the annual Freedom of Information Day celebration on Friday, March 14, Noon at the Minneapolis Public Library.

Research Tool for Tracking the Finances

Sunlight follows the federal politics money trail is a new research tool for tracking the finances that support the campaigns of federal elected officials from Minnesota MinnPost 2-20-08

Sunshine Week in DC

If you’re going to be in DC during Sunshine Week - March 16-22Associated Press President and CEO Tom Curley will address Freedom of Information and other open government issues during a Sunshine Week dinner event March 18 at The National Press Club. The dinner is being jointly presented by Sunshine Week and the Eric Friedheim National Journalism Library.

The speech will update Curley's 2004 Hays-Enterprise Lecture which many view as a defining moment in moving forward the myriad efforts ongoing now to preserve and protect access to information. "The government is pushing hard for secrecy," he said in the Hays speech. "We must push back equally hard for openness." Curley's 2008 speech will look ahead to priorities in the new administration.

Keeping an Eye on MN Legislature

How and where Minnesota’s Congressional delegation working on Internet issues. Some interesting stories linked to each legislator’s name and locale. (Save the Internet)

A quick glimpse at legislative, judicial and regulatory realities in Minnesota, published by Free Press.
Note that Free Press will be holding their Media Reform Conference in Mpls June 6-8 2008. - Just as the title suggests, a look at who owns TV, radio, print media, the web, films and more.

Art exhibit seeks to shed light on climate change

Art exhibit seeks to shed light on climate change
A new exhibit at the Bell Museum combines the ideas of art with science to draw diverse crowds. This multimedia exhibition includes paintings, drawings, sculpture and music by 20 Wisconsin artists, designed to “help people who might not be so attuned to the facts and figures” of climate change.

Maplewood City Council Rethinks Public Forums

Maplewood City Council to consider change in format of contentious public forums
Contentious sessions criticized; council may change policy
The notorious Maplewood City Council raises some provocative First Amendment issues.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Common Cause and Washington Monthly

Common Cause and Washington Monthly – Do they just like each other?
If you’re into romance among the pundits, keep an eye on this. The Washington Post, always on the lookout, sees some flickers in the relationship between Common Cause and Washington Monthly, the advocacy group and the highly regarded journal. Of particular interest as Common Cause steps up its membership and advocacy activities in Minnesota.

Even Without Technology Youth Media Thrives

Even Without Technology Youth Media Thrives
Fascinating article about youth, media and technology – good background read for the “Afloat in the wireless pond” conference on March 1.

State Highways and Bridges

Because the Minnesota Legislative Auditor's Report on State Highways and Bridges grabbed all of the headlines today you probably know that it was little critical of MnDOT's decisions and forthright communication with the public. Che

Come to hear more from Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles at the premier "COGI-tations" program sponsored by MnCOGI and Common Cause Minnesota - Tuesday, April 8, 5:00 p.m. at the TIES administrative office, Snelling and Larpenteur in St. Paul.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Plan to Offer 50 Sites on Politics in 50 States
The New York Observer prepares for the election by launching a spate of state-specific publications.

Monday, February 18, 2008

COGI Quote - Feb 18

Are you not ashamed of caring so much for the making of money and for fame and prestige, when you neither think nor care about wisdom and truth and the improvement of your soul? Socrates

New Media, New Journalism – Ethics in Online Journalism

New Media, New Journalism – Ethics in Online Journalism
A Minnesota SPJ Public Forum
Monday, February 25, 2008 7:00 p.m.
UBS Forum, Minnesota Public Radio
480 Cedar Street, St. Paul

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Thoughts While Thinking

As I write, I’m listening to Garrison Keillor and a delightful rendition of “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” It reminds me of a dear friend, Ruth Myers, who used to speak of “perceptive paranoia” as the sine qua non of a good education.

Inspiration enough for me to remind you, dear surfer, to be sure you’re signed up for the March 1 “Afloat in the wireless pond” conference. This ambiguous title reflects not just society’s present state of being but conference planners’ invocation of the thought-provoking “Thoreau in Minnesota” conference organized by Dale Schwie. The Waldenesque image inspired the planning process.

Title notwithstanding, March 1 promises to be an “out of the box” day with a roster of speakers that includes a journalist, an historian, a city planner, a philosopher, a geographer, a poet, high school participants in History Day research, and David Wiggins, who defies categorization. Each speaker has a perspective on living in digital days informed by experience and by time devoted to thinking about life afloat on the wireless pond.

There will be time to connect with other “floaters” and to consider the oft-cited pernicious characteristics of technology. Above all, participants will explore the many ways in which people and organizations of good are capitalizing on the potential of information age tools to enhance access to information and thus expand the circle of informed participation.

Agenda and details abound. Reserve with just an email. Pay at the door.
($20 for lunch and materials)

By Mary Treacy

Fort Snelling: Should its history be told?

Fort Snelling: Should its history be told?
Painful, even shameful, stories that reflect the broad scope of the fort's past should not be erased, but learned from.
NINA ARCHABAL, Director of the Minnesota Historical Society, faces head on the question at the very core of information access – do we really want/need to know the truth?

Information Searches That Solve Problems

Interesting study from Pew on the information-for-problem-solving habits of the population in general and specific populations, e.g. Gen Y, in particular. The questions are interesting as the responses.

Visit the Pew site for details

Tips for Future Librarians

What to teach to future government information librarians: Escape from the Blackboard Jungle John Shuler in Free Government Information, Fri, 2008-01-18 13. Granted the title might not grab every web surfer it’s a great article – starting with the fact that gov’t librarians need to understand government and people more than they need to master the skills of organizing the stuff. The author is on the faculty at Dominican University, an academic institution familiar to lots of Minnesota library types.

Army Blocks Public Access to Digital Library

Army Blocks Public Access to Digital Library
Public access to the Reimer Digital Library, which is the largest online collection of U.S. Army doctrinal publications, has been blocked by the Army, which last week moved the collection behind a password-protected firewall. This was a surprise move since none of the materials in the library are or ever have been classified…The Federation of American Scientists filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking the Army to provide a copy of the entire unclassified Library so that it could be posted on the FAS web site.

Congressional committee probes killing of Great Lakes cancer report

Congressional committee probes killing of Great Lakes cancer report
A recent Minnesota Monitor article by Robin Marty describes House Committee on Science and Technology investigations of allegations of government misinformation re. contaminants in the Great Lakes.

Secret criminal cases may at last see light of day

The U.S. attorney's office may consider automatic review of sealed criminal cases following an inquiry by the Star Tribune.

Sunshine Week 2008 hits the campaign trail

Candidates from president to mayor to be quizzed on access issues.
Washington - The Sunshine Week alliance has begun a yearlong Sunshine Campaign project to bring the discussion of open government issues to election campaigns from president to local city council. While the initiative expands the scope of Sunshine Week to cover the entire election season, specific events and coverage are still planned for Sunshine Week, March 16-22, 20

States failing FOI responsiveness
States failing FOI responsiveness
Better Government Association and National Freedom of Information Coalition give 38 out of 50 states "F" grade in overall responses to FOI requests.
Analysis by the Better Government Association
Overview by Charles N. Davis

COGI Quote - Feb 17

Public records are the people's records. The officials in whose custody they happen to be are mere trustees for the people."

Judge Rufus Smith, Superior Court of Concinnati, Ohio, 1901.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Carpetbagger's Report
We don’t usually pick up on federal affronts – lots of national organizations do a great job of keeping an eye on Washington – but this list was so comprehensive and current that we couldn’t pass it up, had to pass it on.

Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge?
New York Times 2-14-08 A good piece to read and think about before – or after – the March 1 “Afloat in the wireless pond” conference. The title suggests a theme “Dumb and Dumber”…..

Digitizing & Preservation
If the feds recognize the importance of preservation, can/will the state be far behind – or will we digitize everything that matters and assume it will be there when it’s needed? Who’s thinking about that?

Best Practices For Immigrant Outreach
ULC Captures Best Practices For Immigrant Outreach in New Publication“Welcome Stranger” Though this new publication may not seem relevant at first blush, it is absolutely on target -- public libraries should provide formal and informal (read government) information about immigrant communities, serve as conduits to local resources and services, and "jump-start" civic engagement. Includes a free download.


One professional association's take on recent Congressional action pertaining to FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act).

AP and the nation's newspapers

The article presents well the tension between AP and the nation's newspapers. Interesting questions about how citizens will continue to get close-up information about their state and local goverment. This reference came from Media Reform - and following the link was well worth the (minimal) effort!