Join the UNC public records project

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By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

Late last month, the NC Open Government Coalition at Elon, working with the NC Local News Workshop, launched a project to “educate the public about the inner workings of UNC’s public records system and to spur collaboration among journalists covering the state’s flagship university.” 

The Coalition began by joining with a group of journalists, professors, and nonprofit organizations to file eight initial requests with UNC for public records related to Nikole Hannah-Jones’ recruitment to UNC. UNC has responded in some fashion to three of those requests, and project leaders are “working through an impasse” on one of those, Coalition director Brooks Fuller told me Tuesday. You can see the requests and track their progress on the project page on MuckRock, which also has a link to view and download the responsive documents. 

Anyone, not necessarily a journalist, who wants to learn more about UNC governance or about acquiring public documents through records requests is encouraged to join the effort, Fuller and Workshop executive director Shannan Bowen told me Tuesday. If you’d like to participate and want to know more, you can contact Fuller or Bowen. You can also join the channel called #unc-public-records-project on the Coalition’s Slack workspace for this initiative. If you would like to add your own records requests to the project, please contact Fuller.

The Coalition and the Workshop will be conducting a series of sessions to help journalists share and edit public records requests, analyze documents and collaborate on their reporting. Bowen stressed Tuesday that the project is “about building collaboration rather than competition,” and eliminating the roadblocks to cooperation.

“UNC’s method of processing public records requests is sometimes pretty opaque,” Fuller added, “and by providing a public platform for what we’re doing we can show people how the process works, and maybe give people an opportunity to ask questions that they’ve wanted to ask of UNC. We can show how all of this works in a way that previously has not been done.”

He added: “We’re going to be paying attention to this for quite some time.”