The Public Access Division of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office has ruled that McHenry County Blog is to be considered “media” under the Freedom of Information Act.
McHenry County Blog is now the only blog in Illinois certified as a “news medium” by the Illinois Attorney General.
Three similar appeals have previously failed.
In doing so, it ruled that McHenry County had violated the Freedom of Information Act.
“… the Public Access Bureau concludes that the County of McHenry (County) improperly designated Mr. Cal Skinner as a recurrent requester,” said the opinion (2017 PAC 46249).
McHenry County Blog appealed.he question arose because McHenry County’s Freedom of Information Officer–after Democrat Jack Franks took office as McHenry County Board Chairman—designated McHenry County Blog as “a recurrent requester.”
McHenry County Blog appealed.
In the response to my request for texts between Franks and patronage employee “Communications Specialist” Oliver Serafini (which, when an answer was finally provided were said to be non-existent), the County contended McHenry County was a “recurrent requester,” as defined in the FOIA as follows:
A “recurrent requester” is defined in Section 2(g) of the Act as a person that, in the 12 months immediately preceding the request, has submitted to the same public body
(i) a minimum of 50 requests for records,
(ii) a minimum of 15 requests for records within a 30-day period, or
(iii) a minimum of 7 requests for records within a 7-day period.
The Attorney General “requested that [McHenry County] provide a detailed explanation of the legal and factual bases for designating Mr. Skinner as a ‘recurrent requester.'”
The County replied, citing three non-binding opinions.
The opinion notes the law says members of the media cannot be designated as “recurrent requesters”:
For purposes of this definition, requests made by news media and non-profit, scientific, or academic organizations shall not be considered in calculating the number of requests made in the time periods in this definition when the principal purpose of the requests is (i) to access and disseminate information concerning news and current or passing events, ( ii) for articles of opinion or features of interest to the public, or ( iii) for the purpose of academic, scientific, or public research or education. (Emphasis added.)
McHenry County Blog submitted legal arguments and an affidavit relating to the history and operation of McHenry County Blog.
McHenry County argued,
McHenry County has no evidence that Mr. Skinner * * * adheres to recognized journalistic standards.
While the posts may include the personal commentary or editorial of the blog’ s publisher, this opinion -based content is not analogous to the reporting with editorial oversight and fact checking that hallmark traditional news sources.
Therefore, Mr. Skinner’s website does not resemble a newspaper,” “periodical,”or ” news service” in an electronic form and does not fall within the plain definition of “news media” in section 2( f) of FOIA.
Parts of the affidavit which rebutted county government’s assertion are then cited in the opinion, followed by
This office has also independently reviewed the McHenry County Blog website during the pendency of this Request for Review.
The McHenry County Blog is regularly updated with posts on governmental issues in McHenry County and elsewhere.
The site often includes original content consisting of Mr. Skinner’ s opinion and commentary on these issues.
The opinion concludes,
Mr. Skinner has furnished evidence that the McHenry County Blog functions much like a member of the traditional news media in terms of
- its production of original content,
- its range of reporting on issues of public interest,
- its established presence on its own and in the traditional media, and
- the size and diversity of its readership. [format changed]
Judging from the totality of the circumstances, this office concludes that the McHenry County Blog is a newspaper or periodical issued at regular intervals in “electronic format” and, therefore, a member of the ” news media” as defined by section 2( f) of FOIA.
Accordingly, based on the available evidence, the County violated FOIA by improperly designating Mr. Skinner as a “recurrent requester” under section 2( g) of FOIA.
In accordance with the conclusions of this letter, this office requests that the County treat Mr. Skinner’s FOIA request as being from “news media.”