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Engagement Lab Wins Research Grant, Collaborates w/ Local Journalists to Make FOIA Requests More Accessible

November 27, 2018

BINJ Editorial Director, Chris Faraone, advised the CMAP Data Visualization class on displaying data sets around Massachusetts gun sales. BINJ is a natural partner for this project, as DigBoston has already begun investigating firearm sales in the state.

The Engagement Lab at Emerson College is pleased to announce it is one of 10 winners of the Online News Association (ONA) Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education Grant. The Lab was awarded this grant for one of its recent journalism projects, titled Putting FOIA to Work: Using Freedom of Information Act Requests to Engage Communities in Locally Relevant Reporting.

Led by Lab faculty Paul Mihailidis, and in collaboration with local partners MuckRock and the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ), this project aims to discover to what extent journalists can employ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to meaningfully engage communities in dialogue about issues that matter to them.

Over the next several months, this project team will prototype new forms of making FOIA more engaging and accessible to students, journalists, and the public through original reporting, participatory workshops, and data visualizations. Muckrock, based in Cambridge, MA, is a non-profit collaborative news site that brings together journalists, researchers, activists, and regular citizens to request, analyze, and share government documents with the aim of making politics more transparent and democracies more informed. BINJ works with independent journalists to publish investigative and community stories through multiple outlets, such as regional weeklies like DigBoston and El Planeta, and is a proponent of slower-paced, higher-quality journalism.

CMAP Students designed and facilitated three activities for community members and local journalists at a recent BINJ Fundraising event.

The project will specifically look into gun sales in Massachusetts, an important yet often complicated topic of public interest. Throughout the next several months, this project will show the impact of citizen voices and participation; local residents will be brought into the process of requesting, parsing, and publicizing FOIA data around guns in their state, and local reporters and students will create and use tools to better communicate the information found through these FOIA requests to the public. Ultimately, this process will help in the development of a model for making public records more inclusive and accessible.

A series of in-class workshops have been held at Emerson for undergraduate Journalism students and Civic Media: Art and Practice (CMAP) graduate students. These graduate students are working with BINJ and Muckrock in three teams to design creative projects to test if journalists can be more effective when working with readers to seek information, parse documents, and distribute results in new ways. The undergraduate students are working on a series of articles and data visualizations tracing gun sales in Massachusetts.

Are you interested in learning more about how to file a FOIA request, getting to know local journalists or pitching an idea about a story in your own community? You are invited to participate in two upcoming community workshops:

> *December 3, 2018 6–8PM* Making FOIA Work w/ MuckRock** @** the**** Democracy Center, 45 Mt Auburn St, Cambridge, MA 02138

> December 10, 2018 6–9PM — Public Newsroom w/ Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ) @ Encuentro 5, 9 Hamilton Pl, Boston, MA 02108

We hope to see you there, to continue to strengthen the relationship between community members and journalists!

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