Media executives are fond of making big speeches about the importance of press freedom. But which organizations are actually spending time and money on it?
A new, searchable list from The FOIA project, a initiative from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, provides a partial answer. Earlier this week, TRAC published The News Media List, a sortable readout of the news organizations and journalists that have filed lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act.
To compile the list, staffers at The FOIA Project spent a year combing through its database of nearly 9,000 plaintiff names for cases filed in federal courts since 2001. They flagged cases with media plaintiffs to come up with an initial list that includes 369 individual journalists and news organizations.
Before the list, a few caveats: The readout of plaintiffs is not exhaustive, in part because it only includes data going back to 2001. It also only includes cases filed in federal district courts, which do not include many open records requests filed under state law. There are also some gaps in The FOIA project’s data, which they hope to fix by making the list public, said Susan Long, the co-director of TRAC.
“By no means do we claim that everything is there,” she said. “We’ve done our best. That’s why we’re publishing it — because we see this as a community project.”
It’s also possible that some people or organizations who consider themselves “news media” haven’t been included, Long said. She’s already heard from one such organization.
The data also shows individual plaintiffs in addition to the news organizations they work for. Jason Leopold, for example, one of the most prolific filers of FOIA lawsuits in the United States, is listed in addition to his employer, Vice Media. Charlie Savage, a reporter for The New York Times, is listed as a serial filer alongside The Times. Some individual journalists also filed lawsuits before they reached their current employer — Leopold is credited with lawsuits from his days at Al Jazeera America, for example.
With all those qualifiers out of the way, here are the top 10 filers of FOIA lawsuits since 2001, per The FOIA project’s data: