Student breaks story with FOIA

Last year I spoke to the Association of Journalism Educators about the importance of teaching students about the Freedom of Information Act. So I was pleased to receive an email from one of the lecturers at Sheffield University telling me how an FOI assignment for their investigative journalism module had led one student to the front page of the local newspaper.

Third-year journalism student Hannah Postles made an FOI request to Wakefield top security prison asking for a list of confiscated items. The answer she received was a surprising inventory of pornographic DVDs, mobile phones and newspaper cuttings about prison staff. Hannah suggested the story to the news editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post where she was doing work experience and it was splashed on the front page.

Hannah, 21, said: “When I took the information to the newsdesk I didn’t think in a million years it would make the front page splash. It was really exciting to see the information from my request develop into a real news story and even more exciting to see the finished story and my byline on the front page the next day.”

An account of the story is posted on Sheffied University’s Department of Journalism page.

This is a great example that should inspire more teachers to integrate the Act into their journalism courses.

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