Journalists complaining about too much government disclosure

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

At least they're complaining about it when that disclosure is immediate disclosure to others of the results of journalists' requests for government disclosure. Erik Wemple here at The Post reports:

From The Washington Post's Lisa Rein comes news that the federal government is launching a six-month ["release to one is release to all"] pilot program with seven agencies to post online documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). "So if a journalist, nonprofit group or corporation asks for the records, what they see, the public also will see," writes Rein….

"I do share the concern of other journalists that this could hurt the journalist who made the original request," writes Washington Post Investigations Editor Jeff Leen via e-mail. "It could also affect long-term investigations built on a number of FOIA requests over time."

"FOIA terrorist" Jason Leopold has big issues with the approach. "It would absolutely hurt journalists' ability to report on documents they obtained through a FOIA request if the government agency is going to immediately make records available to the public," writes the Vice News reporter via e-mail. Leopold has already experienced the burn of joint release, he says, after requesting information on Guantanamo Bay. The documents were posted on the U.S. Southern Command's Web site. "I lost the ability to exclusively report on the material even though I put in all of the work filing the requests," he notes.

The result is inevitably less incentive for news organizations to throw money and time behind FOIA battles, Leopold argues….

(Wemple also has a follow-up post.)

An interesting reminder of how complicated disclosure vs. confidentiality/exclusivity debates can be—and, of course, an echo of the debates about copyright law, the hot news tort, publication of illegally leaked material, and more.