It's true — some public information officers are really paranoid. High Country News reporter Tristan Baurick, trying to report on preservation of a historic chalet in Olympic National Park, found "a bizarre blockade on press freedom, the likes of which I’d never experienced outside a military base or murder scene."
- SEJ Publication Types:Region:Visibility:
Just over a year after an oil-train explosion in Quebec killed 47 people, information on the threats oil trains present to public safety is starting to seep through a long blackout in which railroads convinced pliable federal regulators that the public was better off not knowing. Journalists from the AP and McClatchy FOIA'd information loose from Amtrak on Maryland and Pennsylvania, two of the states that have been reluctant to disclose.
Here are some recent explainers of interest to environmental journalists from the CRS, which Congress does not allow to be released to the taxpaying public who paid for them. The WatchDog thanks those who leaked them and the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy for publishing them.Topics on the Beat:
It's not like you can't figure these things out. Trains full of explosive crude oil, for example, may be obvious as a string of 100-odd identical black tankers rolls through populated areas. The number on the DOT-required diamond-shaped flammability placard on each car probably has the number 1257 on it. But it's not just crude oil that's an issue.
Should firefighters and residents know whether trains loaded with explosive oil are routed through the heart of residential districts? Many railroads say no, claiming it is a security issue. But on June 18, 2014, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) dismissed that claim, saying that oil train routing was not sensitive security information. Yet the railroads are fighting back.
As 100-car trains of explosive crude oil snake through U.S. cities and river gorges, the railroad industry continues to tell the public they are being kept secret from terrorists. But now a series of articles by Rob Davis for the The (Portland) Oregonian seems to have caught the railroads and the feds in their own contradictions.
More than a dozen news media organizations filed a brief May 6, 2014, arguing that the Federal Aviation Administration is violating the First Amendment with its limits on drones. The media groups were intervening in the appeal of a judge's overturning of a $10,000 Federal Aviation Administration fine imposed on Raphael Pirker, a videographer who shot a promotional video of the University of Virginia campus.
When the Oregon government refused to tell her about oil trains, Eugene Weekly environment reporter Camilla Mortensen (pictured) learned about them from a train-hopping local cinematographer. Now you can roam the freight yards with your camera and know what you are looking at. And/or download the UN Number app.Region:
On Saturday, October 5: At 9:00 a.m. SEJ FOI Task Force Chair Tim Wheeler of the Baltimore Sun will moderate a session on overcoming obstacles put up by agency press offices to reporters who want to interview government officials. At 10:45 a.m. WatchDog Editor Joe Davis will present a hands-on session with tips for sleuthing dam and levee stories using federal databases like the National Inventory of Dams and the National Levee Database.
Freelancer Erica Gies shares how she has created a "citizen of the world" reporting portfolio, gets paid to travel, and gains perspective on herself, her country and the common problems we all face.SEJ Publication Types: