Headliners Foundation of Texas announces FOI grants program

Headliners Foundation of Texas
Sept. 6, 2016
AUSTIN – The Headliners Foundation of Texas has embarked on a one-year pilot program of grants to reimburse small-market and community news organizations in Texas for extraordinary expenses charged by governmental bodies for Open Records searches.

The grant application process will open September 6, 2016, and will continue until the 2016 Foundation funding for the grants is awarded. Click here for the Foundation’s media release announcing the grant program.

Here is information for you to determine if your news organization is eligible and how you can apply.

The goal is to help community journalism organizations overcome financial challenges in Open Records costs to pursue enterprise related to public issues in keeping with the Headliners Foundation mission: “Promoting Excellence in Texas Journalism.”

  • Potential recipients are those who need it the most and who would be less capable of pursuing local stories because the cost of obtaining public records isn’t scaled on market size. So, we are targeting smaller market newspaper, broadcast and digital newsrooms.
  • Grants would be limited to actual charges incurred for one specific and identifiable cost – payment to governmental bodies for what they charge for providing records under Texas law. Maximum reimbursement per project is $2,000.
  • Eligible news organizations’ applications could be accompanied by an official estimate by the governmental body of the cost of obtaining the record and we could make a tentative award on that basis.
  • Reimbursement will be made after documentation that the records were supplied and the governmental body’s bill has been processed. An exception would be to make a partial reimbursement when the news organization has to put down the deposit required by state law before the governmental body begins the search.
  • A key benefit of this project is educational experience for community journalists in using the Open Records Act as a tool. The Foundation’s Professional Excellence Committee members have volunteered to serve as mentors to grant recipients on how to frame requests to acquire needed information at the most cost-effective method and how to deal with related issues.
  • The Foundation’s hope is that success of the prototype will lead to sustaining and perhaps the community journalism program in future years.

What is the current situation?

Newsrooms across Texas are challenged by the digital disruption that took away valuable financial resources that provided their audiences with more than just spot news coverage. The key to impact journalism and journalism’s watchdog function is the use of public records. While Texas has statutes that protect the public and the media’s access, it can be a significant hurdle for smaller news organizations to pay the fees for records’ searches that Texas law allows. Such fees can run into thousands of dollars and aren’t scalable by market size.

Why is Headliners Foundation launching this prototype?

The mission of the Headliners Foundation is to promote excellence in journalism in Texas. We address that by our journalism scholarships, awards to professionals in our news competitions and our grants for journalism education and other projects. This new grant program’s goal is to become an enabler for civic, public and/or investigative journalism in Texas on the front end, in addition to providing rewards post facto.

How do we do this?

The Foundation’s Professional Excellence Committee will review and approve grant applications on a “rolling basis,” with the intention of quick turnarounds. The maximum grant per news organization is $2,000 and be limited to one story or project, so we can identify diverse recipients across our state.

The grant money is restricted to extraordinary expenses related to the charges by a governmental body for releasing public records related to the news organization’s pursuit of a significant investigative or journalism story. It is limited to reimbursement of the cost of the fulfillment of the FOI request and would be paid on receipt of a copy of the bill from the governmental body. Because state law provides that the governmental body can collect 50 per cent of its cost estimate before beginning a records search, we may offer exceptions and help pay the deposit, as long as official documentation is presented.

Grant recipients should agree to acknowledge in their published material that a grant by the Headliners Foundation of Texas helped make possible the acquisition of material under Open Records statutes that was used in the reporting and allow the Headliners Foundation to link to the published material on the Headliners web site after publication in the local markets.

We will use the following tools to assess what are “small market” and “community” media outlets and could identify those in our call for grants:

  • Newspaper and broadcast outlets headquartered in Texas counties with less than 100,000 population
  • Newspapers in Texas Associated Press Managing Editor’s lowest two circulation divisions
  • We will also consider small locally oriented digital news operations in any Texas market, as well as journalism school public journalism projects as long as such projects’ goal is to publish the project in a public forum.