Report on survey of journalists' views on "release to one, release to all" FOIA policy

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | News | August 31, 2016

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is publishing the results of its survey of journalists on the "release to one, release to all" policy under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). More than 100 self-identified journalists responded to the survey.

Respondents to the survey were generally in favor of a “release to one, release to all” policy if it is implemented with a delay between release to the requester and release to the public. While a quarter of respondents supported the policy unconditionally, almost 60% support it only with conditions, such as a delay period.

Many journalists indicated that they believe there would be detrimental effects if others can immediately access records they receive in response to a FOIA request. In particular, if a third party is allowed to “scoop” the results of those efforts, not only do the incentives for filing FOIA requests decline, but the quality of stories might suffer.

At the same time, respondents identified a number of potential benefits of a public release policy, including increased access to federal records for those with limited resources, eliminating duplicative requests, and having experts in different subject areas analyze the same records. Many also expressed doubt that access to records requested under FOIA alone would enable other reporters to scoop a story.

One possible way to address journalists’ concerns is to implement a delay between release of records to the requester and to the public. Although there was no clear consensus among respondents on a preferred length of delay, an evaluation of responses indicates that a delay of between a week and a month should be sufficient to reduce what journalists perceive to be the most negative effects of the policy.

Respondents also indicated that a “release to one, release to all” policy could affect their incentives for filing FOIA lawsuits. The concerns are largely the same as with the policy in general, but are magnified due to the increased cost and efforts associated with litigation.

A CSV file of the data used to generate this report is also available on our web site.