My student publication received an open records request seeking information from us. What do we do?

Paper cut outs of question marks strewn around a desk next to a hand holing a pen

I am the editor of a student newspaper at a public college. Recently, we received an open records request seeking information from us – emails, story drafts, etc. – about a story we recently published.  As a news organization, we send out many public record requests to government agencies seeking documents for stories our reporters are working on. We’ve never received one before. What do we do?

In most cases, you can simply respond with a very short note indicating that you are not subject to the open records law. Open records laws generally only apply to “public bodies” or “public agencies” and to documents generated by public government officials.

Student journalists should not be considered government officials and student media would generally not conduct government business as those terms are defined under open records laws.

Moreover, there are serious First Amendment and other legal concerns (such as a state’s reporter’s privilege) that are raised in compelling journalists to reveal their editorial work product. If the requester refuses to back down or if your school pushes you to turn over the records, you should contact our free legal hotline or seek other legal counsel.