The FOIA audit: How we did it
West Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act allows any person a right to inspect
or copy any public record of a public body in the state.
Do public employees and officials readily offer citizens the “full and complete
information” required under the law?
To find out, the West Virginia Associated Press Managing Editors Association
conducted a statewide FOIA audit. The project was modeled on public records
audits conducted in other states by media organizations, state auditors and
In West Virginia, news reporters from 12 newspapers and the AP visited each of
the state’s 55 counties to assess FOIA compliance by county governments. The AP
and the AP managing editors’ group brought together the various news
organizations to do the work.
Auditors asked for incident reports from sheriff’s departments, employment
contracts from school superintendents, expense reports from county clerks and
operating budgets from county commissions.
Today, AP member newspapers across the state are publishing the first results
of the audit. Coverage will continue through Wednesday in The Charleston
News reporters who did the auditing represented themselves as citizens, not as
journalists. They declined to give their names or why they wanted the records,
as such things are not required for disclosure under the law.
Auditors tried to first obtain the records by simply asking for them. If they
were denied at first, they asked to speak to an office supervisor. If denied
again, they filed a formal, written FOIA request.
Terry Wimmer, Shott Chair of Journalism at West Virginia University,
coordinated the audit, and analyzed the results for the news organizations.
The news organizations that took part in the audit were the AP, the Beckley
Register-Herald, the Bluefield Telegraph, the Charleston Daily Mail, The
Charleston Gazette, the Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram, the Elkins Inter-
Mountain, the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, the Martinsburg Journal, the
Morgantown Dominion Post, the Parkersburg News, the Weirton Daily Times and the
Wheeling News Register.