PACER Turns 20 — Still a Workhorse for Reporters

December 3, 2008

It's not the EPA that you think. In the old days, reporters had to trudge down to the courthouse and schmooze the clerks to pore through case files (often expensive to copy) that often turned up some amazing stories. Well, they still do in many cases — but nothing beats being able to download a court document from the Internet while sitting at your desk.

"Electronic Public Access" is the other EPA — better known to most as the PACER system, which puts many (but not all) federal court records online. It turns 20 this year, and use by reporters (not to mention lawyers) has grown immensely during that time.

It costs money — but not more than most newspapers can afford. Access is not anonymous — you have to register and get an account. It's reasonably easy to use — if you compare it to many other online databases.

And it's an information access tool that should be in every reporter's toolbox.