Our View: The BJ-T and Obtaining information

by BJ-T Staff

When you read the U.S. Constitution, you’ll find that the first thing it talks about is the right to a free press and the right to obtain information. In our country, the right to obtain information is paramount. And of all the laws protecting these rights, few are more important than the Open Records Act.

Since the law was first established in Oklahoma in 1985, journalists at media outlets of every kind have used the Open Records Act to obtain information on murders, business transactions, government scandals, and everything in between.

Even weekly newspapers like us use the act to provide critical information to you, the general public.

Over the past few months, the Journal-Tribune has obtained hundreds of pages of public records from City Hall. We’ve sorted through all of them – page-by-page.

It’s grueling. It’s time-consuming. And it’s a strain on the eyes. But it’s worth it.

As journalists, we are called to ensure that our government leaders are held to account. We do that by reporting on their actions, especially those that involve taxpayer dollars.

These pieces of information might seem mundane to some. So, why have we filed these requests? To protect you.

Filing a records request is like going to a regular check-up at the doctor’s office. Just because you go to the doctor’s office does not mean that anything is wrong. But if something is, you can fix the problem before it grows. Those check-ups are all the more important when they affect entire cities.

We don’t file these requests because we enjoy pouring over purchase orders and invoices for hours on end. We do it to make sure that our city leaders are telling the truth when they tell us what they’re spending your money on. Without the threat of accountability, politicians could be a little freer with public money than they should. Newspapers report that kind of information, and they get a lot of it from public records. If journalists were unable to obtain those records, there would be few meaningful ways to force government officials to stay honest.

Luckily, we have every right to do that.

The Journal-Tribune will always work to keep you informed, and filing open records requests is just one of the ways we do that.

We are thankful to have strong laws protecting the right to obtain information.