SALT LAKE CITY — It’s National News Literacy Week, which is part of an E.W. Scripps initiative with the News Literacy Project to become more informed news consumers, while stressing the significant role credible journalism plays in a world that has become increasingly filled with misinformation.
A huge part of what we do at FOX 13 revolves around uncovering and presenting the truth through reports that you see on television daily.
In fact, a big story that our investigative team broke in 2020 came from a concerned parent who used a resource known as the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA).
The GRAMA allows everyone the right to request records from government agencies in Utah through email, fax, mail, in person, or the open records portal.
It’s what led Raina Williams to hundreds of text messages and emails that exposed name calling, insults, profanity, and general dysfunction within the Salt Lake City School Board.
“The information that was finally produced was so shocking and alarming,” Williams explained.
Williams says she didn’t expect to discover that type of information when she filed a GRAMA request for the first time.
At the time, she had been attending school board meetings to learn about their back-to-school plans during the pandemic since she had five children in the district.
Instead of answers, Williams said she got inconsistent information.
"I thought, ‘something is different.’ The private discussion between the school board members and the superintendent is obviously very different than what they're telling us,” Williams said.
FOX 13 asked Williams about her experience when filing a GRAMA request as a non-journalist.
She said filing was easy, but obtaining the information she was seeking was not. Williams said it took about three months of hard work before she got something substantial back.
Once she did, Williams brought the information to FOX 13 Investigative Reporter Adam Herbets.
“She had all the information roaring and ready to go before I even picked up her first phone call,” Herbets said. “There are plenty of stories that we pursue that never end up on TV because the facts just aren't there.”
Herbets believes the GRAMA process would be more effective if more people knew they could access it.
“I think if the government was very forthcoming about the fact that we have records you're entitled to look at, the more people would do it,” he explained.
As for the GRAMA request filing process in Utah, Society of Professional Journalists Member and Weber State University Multimedia Journalism Associate Professor Jean Norman believes GRAMA is one of the easier to use systems.
She says Utah offers more support for public records requests than other states where you'll likely need to hire an attorney.
Ultimately, Norman said this simplifies the process that journalists and citizens must go through to access the same information.
“You don't have to have a license to be a journalist. You just have to be curious, you have to be willing to set your own biases aside, and try to look at things objectively.”
If you need help filing a GRAMA request or have a question about the process, contact our investigative team here.
The Society of Professional Journalists Region 9 - Society of Professional Journalists (spj.org) and The Utah Investigative Journalism Project Contact Information - The Utah Investigative Journalism Project are other resources Norman recommends to help citizens and journalists alike to learn more about GRAMA.