Deadspin Crowdsourcing Its FOIA Efforts To Route Around Silly State-Residents-Only Rules

from the freedom-for-all dept

Frankly, it was only a matter a time before this came to be. Two years or so ago, Mike wrote a piece about a Supreme Court ruling that gave the go-ahead to the state of Virginia to discriminate in its response to FOIA requests based on state residency. The state law that allowed Virginia to flatly refuse to comply with transparency requests from non-state residents was curious as a matter of good governance and was heralded by some, including Mike, as being a potential roadblock to national media, especially new media, to reporting on the goings on in the many states of our blessed union. The internet and new media, as perhaps should have been obvious, have their ways of routing around all this silliness.

Here to show how it's done is Deadspin, who filed an FOIA request in Tennessee, which has similar discriminatory FOIA policies, for emails between the University of Tennessee and Nike. This all stemmed from a rather banal situation going on at the school in which most of the women's teams are being rebranded from "Lady Vols" to simply "Volunteers" like the men's teams. This change in branding curiously came at the same time the school dropped its partnership with Adidas and switched to Nike, so Deadspin wanted to find out if there was some kind of influence being wielded by Nike over female athletic programs at a public university. So they filed for the FOIA request.

It was soon followed by a rejection letter ... because I'm not a Tennessee resident. As it stands, Tennessee's state laws only give the right to review records to "any citizen of this state." I am not a citizen of the state, and therefore they can tell me (and whoever else doesn't live in Tennessee, which includes everyone who works at Deadspin) to bugger off. Is this legal? Apparently so.

There's only one word for describing this way of thinking: garbage. Why don't they just put a sign at the Tennessee border saying, "Nothing to see here, please turn around"? Or just change the name of the Tennessee Open Records Act to the Tennessee Kinda-Sorta-Maybe-If-We-Like-You Records Act? Of just amend the text of the law to read, "Nah, fuck you"? Functionally, this just seems like a fantastic tool for ensuring national media can only give you glowing coverage—any documented verification is impossible, unless they want to give it to you.
That sentiment of frustration has been shared by numerous national blogs and media, including this one, if mildly so, several years back. It's a sense of the game being over if you don't happen to be a resident of the state in question. This, as it should be obvious, violates the spirit of the FOIA as a general tool for transparency, but what can you do? The Supreme Court ruled form on high, right?

Of course not. If new media should be linked to citizen journalism and blogs in particular embrace their readerships and communities as information sources, this is a non-problem. Deadspin sees it similarly in a post entitled "Tennessee Won't Give Us Nike's Emails; Maybe They'll Give Them To You."
But, hey, we've got readers everywhere, right? So I'm asking all of you, residents of Tennessee, to submit a public records request for me, if you don't mind. I'm putting a copy of my entire public records request below. Or, hey, come up with your own version if you've got a better idea for one. If you hear back from Tennessee, please let me know: diana@deadspin.com.
It's a wondeful tactic, and one completely in line with the idea of new media and citizen journalism, not to mention community participation amongst the readership. Too bad the University of Tennessee is apparently looking to play extremely dumb with the crowdsourced requests.
Everybody got the exact same answer: a copy of the Nike branding audit and nothing else. Not a single email. Not one text message. Not even a lonely memo, draft, or letter... a return that ignores what we asked for and goes against what logic suggests is the mountain of paperwork generated when a billion-dollar university system interacts with a billion-dollar company. There are only two ways this is possible:

1. Nike intentionally conducted all business with Tennessee only over the phone or in person, specifically to keep everything out of the public record.

2. The University of Tennessee is telling us to go fuck ourselves.
The wonderful part about the school attempting to route around these valid requests this way is that even by winning, the university still loses. Now there's zero doubt something shady is going on here. Either the school is refusing to comply with an FOIA request, or it is hiding its dealings in places it thinks the light of day will never shine. Either way, interest is only piqued further, rather than being sated.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: foia, freedom of information, tennessee
Companies: nike


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2015 @ 4:15am

    Now that's one way to play it. Instead of answering one FOIA request they get dozens or more for the same item from the locals. Sounds to me like it would have been much cheaper to only answer one out of state rather than dozens of requests for it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2015 @ 4:24am

    "the go-ahead to the state of Virginia to descriminate"

    descriminate: to take down the scrim so people can clearly see what's going on backstage.

    http://www.setrentals.com/SoftPortal.php?Cat=1&info=29

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 20 Mar 2015 @ 4:51am

    2. The University of Tennessee is telling us to go fuck ourselves.

    Love it. This is the default course of action for Governments in general nowadays. Sadly. I keep wondering how to force them to be transparent and hold these people accountable. One way would be for more people that want change to dive into politics. Which is all well and dandy until you see what happened here in Brazil.

    Back in 1992 Luiz Lindbergh Farias Filho was at the spotlight of a student movement against the president, Fernando Collor de Mello. Collor ended up suffering an impeachment due to wide corruption and the student movement scored an awesome victory. Lindbergh ended up in politics afterwards and Collor made it back to the politics in the legislative recently. Both of them are now being investigated in the latest Petrobras scandal that started about an year ago when Brazilian Federal Police and the US authorities bumped into shady numbers in a refinery in Pasadena. And they were seen exchanging hugs and all sorts of prising remarks.

    So there are quite a few things we can take from this piece of history:

    1- People are generally dumb, have an incredibly short memory or are generally ignorant of history (including their own). You see, voters put a man that confiscated bank accounts and caused tons of suicides throughout the country back into politics. Try discussing politics in a bar. Either it will devolve into some petty partisan discussion devoid of facts or you'll be the boring, weird one.

    2- Even if some good persons enter politics to try to change it there's a huge chance they'll be corrupted in the end and absorbed by the system.

    3- The system is built in a manner that makes any changes and challenges against itself virtually impossible.

    The other way would be bloody with hordes going civil war with pitch forks and everything, which is never good for anyone but sometimes necessary.

    The fact is, we are rapidly reaching the bottom of this moral and ethics hole and while there are awesome initiatives I'm afraid we'll still touch the bottom before real change start for real.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    wshuff (profile), 20 Mar 2015 @ 5:50am

    "Descriminate." You keep using that word. I do not think it is spelled the way you think it is spelled.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2015 @ 6:07am

    Brand Loyalty

    > Nike intentionally conducted all business with Tennessee only over the phone or in person, specifically to keep everything out of the public record.

    As proof of Nike's commitment to transparency, we have included a copy of the telephone used by the University of Tennessee. The phone comes with a built in motion-recharge system, and can be fully recharged by playing merely one average inning in the outfield.

    We appreciate that many of you will want to use this phone in the field, and we apologize in advance that it only comes in the one form factor - 10 1/2 wide.

    When reordering, please be sure to specify right or left foot. And remember:

    Get Smart. Get Nike.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Get off my cyber-lawn! (profile), 20 Mar 2015 @ 11:06am

    I hereby dub thee...

    the Streisand Effect Deadspin Corollary!

    If you refuse to answer a FOIA request or respond with absolute garbage, you simply draw ever-increasing attention to whatever it is you are attempting to hide.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Advertisment

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Discord

The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...

Loading...
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.