Now in its 27th year, AAJA Voices is a student program that provides aspiring journalists with career-ready skills to succeed in the continually-evolving media landscape. By nurturing relationships between students and professional volunteers, Voices also gives students the opportunity to tap into mentors’ networks and begin their own while also providing AAJA journalists leadership and management opportunities. 

3 stories generated through FOIA

3 stories generated through FOIA

BY ANNIE MA & DAVE SEBASTIAN

Ever wondered what government officials are doing behind closed doors? Or what they spend on, where they go and whom they talk to? The Freedom of Information Act is your golden tool. It is a law that allows the public to request public records.

A FOIA request can lead you to unthinkable scoops. Here are a few stories we’ve spotted that have come to light through FOIA requests.


Everywhere Trump Traveled Before Air Force One — Reporters usually trail behind the president wherever he goes. But where did Trump travel before he became president? The answer lies in a FOIA-requested document, which the Bloomberg data team obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration.

As FAA is a federal agency, and Trump is now a federal official, Bloomberg was able to reason that requesting such records was in the public interest.

The records Bloomberg obtained detailed Trump’s flights on three aircraft: his Boeing 757, a Cessna 750 Citation X jet and a Sikorsky helicopter. One striking destination was missing, however: his flights to and from Russia. FOIA requests have limits, and obtaining the records can take a very long time.

Check out this graphic visualizing Trump’s flights to and from his estate in the Caribbean:

 Source:  Bloomberg

Source: Bloomberg


DeVos Has Scuttled More Than 1,200 Civil Rights Probes Inherited From Obama — Through multiple public records requests, ProPublica compiled a database of complaints against schools and colleges brought to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. In total, the dataset documented of 40,000 cases that alleged civil rights violations that discriminated on the basis of race, disability and gender. Through an analysis of the data, ProPublica found the Department of Education, under DeVos and the Trump administration, to be much more lenient than under the Obama administration—of cases that lasted at least 6 months, the Obama administration recommended corrective action or found civil rights violations 51 percent of the time, which dropped to 35 under Trump. The department also closed 1,200 cases from the Obama administration that had lasted longer than 6 months.


Murder with Impunity — To address a shortcoming in federal data on violent crimes, the Washington Post requested homicide and arrest records from 50 separate city police departments and created its own database. Federal data records a case as resolved even if it was in circumstances other than an arrest, obscuring trends in how successful departments are in closing out homicides. The Post’s analysis found pockets of low solve rates in the cities they studied, often correlated with poverty, race and community trust in the police department. At large, the Post also found a difference in solve rates across racial lines. On Twitter, Kimbriell Kelly documented how the post tracked down the data from each department.


Annie Ma and Dave Sebastian are 2018 AAJA Voices students. Annie Ma is currently an editorial fellow at Mother Jones in San Francisco. Dave Sebastian is currently an intern at Bloomberg in Washington D.C.

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