Investigative Resources

Investigative reporting: Why does it matter?

  • A chance to help people
  • A chance to uncover corruption
  • A chance to find systems that aren’t working and suggest solutions
  • A chance to change the law
  • A chance to make the world a better place
  • We are the court of last resort for many people
  • A chance to show why newspapers still matter

It’s not always year-long projects. It can be good enterprise beat reporting that makes use of documents or data on deadline to add authority.

Investigative reporting is...

  1. A scientific approach to reporting. We become the experts because we’ve read the documents, queried the databases.
  2. Triangulating. People lead you to documents, documents lead you to people.
  3. It’s about people. Stories should not be filled with numbers. The documents and data give you the foundation for the story but focus on the human element.
  4. Explanatory journalism: explaining how complex systems work.

Models for investigations

Key points of the Oklahoma Open Records Act

  • Oklahoma Open Records Act Title 51, Section 24A.1-24A.29
  • FOI Oklahoma organization:
  • Act is inclusive. Assume everything is open.
  • Definition of record includes “book, paper, photograph, microfilm, data files created by or used with computer software, computer tape, disk and record, sound recording, film recording, video record or other material regardless of physical form or characteristic."
  • Records “created by, received by, under the authority of, or coming into the custody, control or possession of public officials, public bodies, or their representatives in connection with the transaction of public business, the expenditure of public funds or the administering of public property" are public unless an exception exists.
  • Public body is one that is “supported in whole or in part by public funds or entrusted with the expenditure of public funds or administering or operating public property."
  • Public bodies or officials have a duty to segregate what is public and private and provide you the public part (Title 51, section 24A.5.2)
  • "Any reasonably segregable portion of a record containing exempt material shall be provided after deletion of exempt portions."


  • May not exceed 25 cents a page unless the request would disrupt the body’s "essential functions."
  • "In no case shall a search fee be charged when the release of said documents is in the public interest, including but not limited to, release to the news media."
  • Fees shall not be used to discourage requests.
  • "Any public body establishing fees under the act shall post a written schedule of said fees at its principal office with the county clerk." How many of the agencies you cover follow this?

Public records availability

  • Public bodies must provide “prompt, reasonable access" to records.
  • Public bodies must designate records custodians to provide records. "At least one such person shall be available at all times to release records during the regular business hours of the public body."
  • You may inspect records yourself and decide what you want copied. The law requires public bodies to make records available for "inspection and copying."
  • Personnel Records 24A.7
    • Public bodies may keep personnel records confidential if they relate to internal personnel investigations.
    • Other records that may be withheld: employee evaluations, payroll deductions (but not salary), applications submitted by people not hired.
    • All personnel records not specifically falling within the exceptions in subsection A shall be available for public inspection and copying including, but not limited to:
    • An employment application of a person who becomes a public official
    • Records of the gross receipts of public funds (salary etc.)
    • Dates of employment, title or position
    • Any final disciplinary action resulting in loss of pay, suspension, demotion of position or termination – THIS IS KEY. Ask for everything related to such actions.
  • Personnel records
    • Public bodies shall keep confidential the home address, telephone numbers and social security numbers of any person employed or formerly employed by the public body.
    • Tulsa World and The Oklahoman have sued the state over refusal to provide dates of birth of state employees. Supreme Court now has the case.
    • Date of birth is a key identifier. Without it you have no way to tell if John Smith the public official is John Smith on the jail blotter. Please help us fight for access to dates of birth.

Key points of the ORA

  • Records in investigatory or litigation files.
  • "Access to records which, under the Oklahoma Open Records Act, would otherwise be available for public inspection and copying, shall not be denied because a public body or public official is using or has taken possession of such records for investigatory purposes or has placed the records in a litigation or investigation file.However, a law enforcement agency may deny access to a copy of such a record in an investigative file if the record or a true and complete copy thereof is available for public inspection and copying at another public body."
  • Agencies do not have to create records for you. Figure out where/how the pieces of information you want are kept.
  • The law is often changing and amended. Many loopholes exist in other statutes.
  • Even if it’s a record related to federal government, if it’s in a public body’s hands it is still subject to the Open Records Act.

Juvenile records
Title 10a, Section 2-6-102

  • C. The confidentiality requirements of subsection A of this section for juvenile court records and law enforcement records shall not apply:
  • Upon the charging or certification of a juvenile as an adult or youthful offender;
  • Upon the charging of an individual pursuant to Section 2-5-101 of this title;
  • To a violation of any traffic regulation or motor vehicle regulation of Title 47 of the Oklahoma Statutes, or to a violation of any city ordinance or county resolution which relates to the regulation of traffic on the roads, highways or streets, or to the operation of self-propelled or nonself-propelled vehicles of any kind in this state;
  • To a juvenile who is fourteen (14) years of age or older and who has been adjudicated delinquent and who subsequently comes before the juvenile court on a new delinquency matter after July 1, 1995;
  • To a juvenile adjudicated a delinquent for committing a delinquent act which, if committed by an adult, would be a felony offense that is a crime against the person or a felony offense involving a dangerous weapon;
  • To arrest records of a juvenile arrested for committing an act, which if committed by an adult, would be a felony offense.

Juvenile records
Title 10a, Section 2-5-101

  • Section 2-5-101 crimes:
  • A. Any person sixteen (16) or seventeen (17) years of age who is charged with murder, kidnapping, robbery with a dangerous weapon, robbery in the first degree if personal injury results, rape in the first degree, rape by instrumentation, use of firearm or other offensive weapon while committing a felony, arson in the first degree, burglary with explosives, burglary in the first or second degree after three or more adjudications for committing either burglary in the first degree or burglary in the second degree, shooting with intent to kill, discharging a firearm, crossbow or other weapon from a vehicle pursuant to subsection B of Section 652 of Title 21 of the Oklahoma Statutes, intimidating a witness, manslaughter in the first degree, sodomy, trafficking in illegal drugs, manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, or possessing with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense a controlled dangerous substance, or assault and battery with a deadly weapon, shall be considered as an adult.
  • B. Any person thirteen (13), fourteen (14), fifteen (15), sixteen (16), or seventeen (17) years of age who is charged with murder in the first degree shall be considered as an adult.

Juvenile records …
Title 10a, Section 2-5-102

  • H. Upon receiving a written request for inspection, release, disclosure, or correction of a juvenile record, the court shall determine whether the record of a juvenile falls under one of the exceptions listed in subsection C of this section. If the record falls under one of the exceptions in subsection C of this section, the court shall issue an order authorizing inspection, release, disclosure or correction of the juvenile record. If the release of a juvenile record is authorized by the court, the Office of Juvenile Affairs shall provide information to the requestor regarding the location of the juvenile record to be released.

Ryan Luke Act reports

  • State law requires DHS to release information on past contacts with the families of children who die from child abuse or neglect in some cases.
  • Law – Title 10, Section 7005-1.4 – requires DHS to release dates and outcomes of previous abuse and neglect allegations and investigations in the home prior to the death in which a caregiver is charged.
  • Request under Ryan Luke Act must be made to DHS public information office after charge is filed.

In your request …

  • Ask for exactly what you need. Don’t go on a fishing expedition.
  • State the time period that you want covered (i.e. all records for the last three years related to XYZ official.)
  • State that you want to be informed in advance of any copying fees associated with your request.
  • Make sure they know how to reach you.
  • Keep copies of all correspondence and take notes of each conversation, the date and who you talked to related to your request.

When they are dragging their feet …

  • Remind the agency that “prompt and reasonable access" is required.
  • Ask if there’s something you can do to help. Offer to come look through the records yourself, under supervision if necessary.
  • A simple request should be fulfilled on the same day (police report, jail booking info.
  • Agree to accept some of the information immediately while they work on the rest of your request.
  • Consider writing a story if response has been unreasonable.
  • Check the attorney general’s website for opinions related to what you are requesting.

If you are denied

  • Ask the agency to put the denial in writing and to cite the statute they are relying on to withhold the records.
  • If they refuse to put it in writing, ask for the reason and applicable statute. Look it up and see if it applies.
  • Write a story about the denial.
  • Contact the city attorney, district attorney’s office or assistant attorney general. Ask them to review the legality of the denial.

 Other places to turn for help:

  • FOI Oklahoma …
  • Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press or try their legal hotline: 1-800-336-4243
  • Talk to related entities who have influence: board members, other elected officials
  • Consider a lawsuit. If you win, they pay your attorney fees.

Gathering records before you need them

  • Always ask for more than you need.
  • Request the whole database, not a printout.
  • Request every field of data, not just the ones you need now.
  • Take a records inventory of your beat.
  • What records are routinely created? Make a schedule and get them.
  • Know the Open Records Act, especially the parts regarding electronic records and allowable fees.
  • Track records requests. Make a spreadsheet or desktop folder and check on them routinely.

10 records you should request regularly

  • Payrolls, including employees’ names, titles, hire date, salary;
  • Budgets in electronic format. Compile several years’ worth and see changes over time;
  • Emails related to any topic you are writing about. AG has said these are public;
  • Personnel actions;
  • Tort claims and lawsuits, including settlement payments;
  • The whole packet that board members or councilors get, not just the agenda;
  • Minutes of meetings you couldn’t make;
  • Inspections of any major facilities in your community … nursing homes, day-care centers, hospitals, jails etc.;
  • Jail log;
  • Police blotter.