SD-SPJ met with city staff about NextRequest, PRA process

In March, the San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists released the results of a survey on the city’s NextRequest system. Last week, San Diego SPJ president Lisa Halverstadt and advocacy chair Tom Jones met the city’s public records staff as well as communication chiefs for the city and Mayor Kevin Faulconer to discuss how the city responds to records requests.

To see a visualization of our NextRequest survey findings, click here. The group went over survey results and steps journalists and the city might take to address common concerns.

Here’s some of what was discussed:

  • Many survey participants noted that NextRequest does not allow requesters to communicate directly with city staff with expertise on certain records. This often makes it more difficult to formulate requests. City Communications Director Katie Keach said journalists can contact a department’s media liaison prior to filing their request and the liaison will put them in touch with a staffer who can help. For a list of the city’s media liaisons, click here.
  • Multiple survey participants reported a lack of clarity about how to challenge or appeal a public records request that’s been denied or only partly fulfilled. The city’s PRA team said a closed request shouldn’t be seen as a closed door. They recommended that requesters message staff directly in the NextRequest portal if they believe a request hasn’t been properly fulfilled.
  • City staff recommended that journalists narrow their requests whenever possible because overly broad requests can result in longer response times. Program Manager Jacqueline Palmer said the city is legally required to assist journalists in forming requests.
  • Palmer said records in their “native format,” including data sets, can be provided if the requester specifies this in their request — and if a department has the information available in the requested format. Keach said data records should always include a key or record layout so the requester can make sense of codes or terminology. Keach asked requesters to contact the city’s PRA team if responses do not include this.
  • We asked whether the city could cite specific legal exemptions when sections of records are blacked out. Staff said they will look into whether exemptions can be cited on the records themselves (i.e., near each redaction), instead of in a separate list.
  • Some survey participants had asked whether the city could update NextRequest to make it easier for users to locate their requests. Keach said staff would look into adding a feature to filter requests, or a separate tab within the NextRequest portal where users can see the requests they have submitted.

We also asked about the step-by step process after a request is submitted. 

  1. When a request is submitted, staff receive an alert. If they have questions, they contact the requester. If there are no questions, liaisons assigned to handle requests for each department take over. If they lack the subject-matter expertise to respond to the request, they will seek out appropriate staff. This part of the process usually begins within two days.
  2. Per state law, staff responds to the requester within 10 days, indicating if the records exist and, if so, approximately how long it will take to fulfill the request. (Halverstadt asked about the message requesters often receive, saying the records will be released in approximately two weeks. One suggestion was to tell the requester when it appears their request will take longer than two weeks to fulfill to better manage expectations.)
  3. Within two weeks, staff indicate whether they need more time to fulfill the request or if the request needs to be directed to another agency.
  4. Once department liaisons have the records, they search through them for redactions or exemptions that may be necessary for legal reasons. Once redactions are made, the records are returned to the PRA office for review to see if any additional redactions are necessary and if the records are indeed what the requester sought.
  5. Records are released through the NextRequest portal or, if they are released to the requester directly, they are published on NextRequest. After 72 hours, the records are published in the public section of NextRequest.

San Diego SPJ thanks city staff for their willingness to discuss the city’s records request process and concerns raised by SPJ’s survey. We recognize the city is not required to have a system like NextRequest and appreciate how it’s made requesting records more efficient and enhanced transparency.

We welcome additional feedback or questions and will continue to communicate with local government agencies about public records processes. For questions or feedback, email SD-SPJ at spjsandiego@gmail.com.

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Shield Law in action

The San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is encouraged that Superior Court Judge Carl Davis quashed a demand from county officials to force a video journalist to testify in a criminal trial. The ruling is the second so far this year rejecting the county’s efforts to compel information from local journalists.

The District Attorney’s Office had demanded that KGTV video journalist Paul Anderegg testify about what he saw last July while reporting on a suspected DUI accident on Interstate 5. Prosecutors argued Anderegg exempted himself from California Shield Law protections when he acted as a good Samaritan and called 911 while filming the accident. Anderegg was represented by Sheppard Mullin, which challenged the county’s actions in court.

On Thursday, Judge Davis sided with Anderegg, ruling that since Anderegg was in the process of newsgathering, California’s Shield Law protections are in place.

That law explicitly protects journalists from having to testify or disclose “any unpublished information.” The law exists to help journalists seek the truth and report it, as well as to minimize harm to sources and others, two core tenets of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. Thursday’s ruling stands as an example for journalists in California that making a 911 call while news gathering does not exempt the journalist from the state’s Shield Law protections.

At a time when trust in the media and in government is hovering at historic lows, the public must know that it can trust both its journalists and its county officials. Continued conflict destroys this public trust, as well as the mutual trust necessary for journalists and government officials to do their respective jobs in service to the public.

​The San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists welcomes the opportunity to engage in discussions with the County about California Shield Law protections.

Disclosure: Attorney Matthew Halgren, who represented Anderegg, was recently voted onto the San Diego SPJ board. He recused himself from discussing the board’s statement.

What do users think of the city’s NextRequest System?

The San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists wanted to know what users think of the city of San Diego’s public records request and information system. In the spirit of Sunshine Week, SD-SPJ is releasing our results and analysis of a public survey we conducted on how the NextRequest system has worked for users.

When NextRequest launched in March 2016, the stated goal was to help boost “transparency and openness.” Our mission behind this survey was to find out if the system did just that, by asking users their opinions on how the system has worked for them.

For local journalists and other members of the public, the system has become a vital tool when seeking information about city government operations. Since its launch, NextRequest has received more than 7,400 requests for records, according to city data.

“I think the process behind the [NextRequest] site is a bigger issue than the site itself,” one survey participant wrote.

The survey of 10 questions was live for a little over two months and asked NextRequest users to rate the system and city’s effectiveness when it comes to releasing information in a timely and efficient manner.

To see the survey results, click here.


“The City tends to ‘inadvertently’ interpret very specific requests incorrectly,” one survey taker wrote, “Particularly when it doesn’t want to release information.”

SD-SPJ analyzed data for requests filed via the NextRequest system in 2016 and 2017. More than 5,800 requests were filed in those years and for requests where records were located by city staff, it took an average of 17 days to release them to the requester. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said records were released on the deadlines they were given by city staff.

One comment submitted in the survey read, “A requestor ought to be able challenge or, at a minimum, comment on a ‘closed’ request. On more than one occasion, the City has deemed a request ‘closed’ when it had not produced the records or had ‘inadvertently’ produced incomplete or completely wrong records in response to a very specific request. If the City is being measured on closed requests, this number is skewed.”

“I like that it [NextRequest] maintains a constant record of when it was submitted, all interactions with staff, who is in charge of it, and when I might expect the resolution.” one person commented, “That saves me a significant amount of time going back and forth with a representative, making sure my request was received, asking who is working on it, etc.”

More than two-thirds of survey participants voted they had no technical difficulties with the system.

One complaint brought up in the survey was the lack of communication between the requester and the city staff within the department they are requesting records from.

“There needs to be department contact who can help navigate through the city documentation system for those of us who are not familiar with the ins and outs of how things are filed and preserved,” a survey participant commented.

“More than once I’ve been told by city departments to simply file a PRA in NextRequest without discussion, only to have the request denied outright,” a survey participant said, “Trying to get someone on the phone who is familiar with what records exist is tough, so you have a situation where the legal requirement to assist requesters in identifying records is not being adequately met, in my opinion.”

The SD-SPJ board hopes to use the survey responses in future discussions with city of San Diego staff regarding how the system is working and what needs improvement moving forward.

Statement on U-T sale; upcoming journo events

U-T file photo.
U-T file photo.

SD-SPJ statement on U-T sale

The San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is watching the news of the sale of San Diego’s and Los Angeles’ local papers with great interest. Both our industry and the ownership of The San Diego Union-Tribune have changed rapidly and repeatedly these past several years. But the principles of ethical journalism and the importance of a strong local press remain clear. San Diego SPJ encourages new owner Patrick Soon-Shiong to prioritize local reporting in both San Diego and Los Angeles, and to respect the voices of staff at both award-winning newspapers. We hope he will champion a strong local presence and stellar reporting in both communities.

‘Better Journalism Workshops’ begins Feb. 20

The first in a yearlong SD-SPJ series of “Better Journalism Workshops” is coming up Tuesday, Feb. 20. RSVP today.

SUCCEEDING ON MULTIPLE PLATFORMS: Learn how to shoot eye-popping photographs and video and capture high-quality audio

Kris Arciaga, video journalist, KPBS

Kinsee Morlan, engagement editor, Voice of San Diego

Howard Lipin, photographer, The San Diego Union-Tribune

When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20

Where: San Diego Central Library, Shiley Suite (9th floor), 330 Park Blvd., San Diego 92101

News literacy at the library

The San Diego Public Library is hosting a series of news literacy programs entitled “Breaking News @ The Library.” Upcoming talks include “News Literacy and You” on Feb. 20 at the Scripps Miramar Ranch library, “Minorities and the Media” on Feb. 28 at the Central Library, and Women in the Media on March 20 at the La Jolla/Riford library.

For more details, see https://www.sandiego.gov/public-library/media-literacy.

Let’s ‘Grade the Media’

Report cards will be handed out February 28 for this year’s Grade the Media event sponsored by SD-SPJ. Invited panelists were the subject of big news stories this past year and this is their chance to talk about what it was like to be in the spotlight. Moderated by Claire Trageser of KPBS, the panel includes:

Taylor Winston – The Iraq war veteran from Ocean Beach who put his life on the line during the Las Vegas mass shooting.

Tony Manolatos – A PR consultant working for several high-profile clients, including the San Diego school system, the campaign against community choice aggregation and Councilman Chris Cate following his decision to share a confidential memo.

David Alvarez – This San Diego City Councilman spent 2017 wrestling with such issues as local governments’ hepatitis A response, homelessness, and vacation-rental regulations.

Dulce Garcia – A Dreamer and immigration attorney who has sued President Donald Trump.

Where: Colt Hall on the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University, 3900 Lomaland Drive, San Diego

When: Wednesday, February 28. Mixer at 6 p.m., panel at 6:30 p.m.

Admission: Free; light refreshments provided. Please RSVP.

For related news before the event and live tweets during the discussion, follow @GradeTheMedia on Twitter. Join in the conversation that night using the hashtag #spjgtm.

ONA on online images

The Online News Association is hosting a discussion entitled “How to Find Newsworthy Images on Social Media” from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, March 3 at NBC 7/Telemundo 20, 9680 Granite Ridge Dr., San Diego.

Steve Myers, editor of The Lens and former managing editor of Poynter Online, is scheduled to speak.

For more info and to RSVP, click here.