The SEJ WatchDog


Searchable archives of the biweekly WatchDog TipSheet's story ideas, articles, updates, events and other information with a focus on freedom-of-information issues of concern to environmental journalists in both the U.S. and Canada are posted here on the day of publication. Journalists are eligible for a free email subscription; send name and full contact information to the SEJ office. WatchDog TipSheet is also available via RSS feed.

Latest WatchDog TipSheet Items

November 6, 2013

  • On October 31, 2013, the White House issued a preview of its "Second Open Government National Action Plan," outlining some steps it hopes to take toward more transparent government. Is it a new direction for an administration whose words on openness have often not been matched by deeds — or a misdirection?

October 23, 2013

  • Eighty-six percent of the 4,069 scientists surveyed by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada said "that, if faced with a political decision putting public health, safety or the environment at risk, they do not believe they could speak out without repercussions."

  • This special issue of the WatchDog focuses on the transparency of safety information related to dams, levees, impoundments, and related water-control structures. For environmental journalists, these subjects offer a goldmine of great story possibilities. These are stories that have not been covered much in the past decade, and stories that fit well at the local, state, or regional level.

  • Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens are at risk from potential dam disasters, yet state and federal agencies hold to a policy that amounts to "out of sight, out of mind." The biggest danger, apparently, is that the public might find out about the dangers, and criticize insufficient dam safety measures, inconvenience private dam owners, depress real estate values, or demand public spending that is politically painful for those in office.

  • You may call that government official a "source" — but to the Obama administration he or she is an "Insider Threat" subject to lie detector tests, wiretapping, and criminal prosecution. That's the conclusion of a new report by former Washington Post Executive Editor Len Downie, published by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

  • A key set of tools for reporters probing dam issues at any level, local to national, are the available databases on various kinds of dams, levees, and impoundments. The WatchDog in this issue presents a special "Reporters' Toolbox" on these data sets. We hope at least to help reporters find and access them.

October 9, 2013

  • If you have a FOIA request pending, it is likely to be on hold. Moreover, the people who could verify this are not answering the phone. Want to file a new FOIA request? Good luck. The federal government is shut down, and as of now there is no sign that it will go back to work.

  • A U.S. district judge on October 2, 2013, brushed aside claims by EPA and the Luminant Corp. that information related to pollution from the company's coal-burning power plants was "confidential business information" — which seems to be a growing excuse for withholding public-interest information.

  • publishes an annual report on quantifying government secrecy with specific numeric indicators. This year it began with a bombshell statement — saying it could not really guarantee all of its numbers because nobody could any longer trust what the US government tells its citizens in this area.

  • 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.