Headliners Foundation offers FOI grants

AUSTIN — Community news organizations in Texas may be better equipped to pursue enterprise journalism with a new program by the Headliners Foundation of Texas to help reimburse the high costs of obtaining public records. 
“We have a history of support for Texas journalism,” said Mark Morrison, chair of the Headliners Foundation. “We hope this innovative approach will make a difference in smaller communities where it is needed.”
The new one-year pilot program will reimburse small-market and community news organizations in Texas for extraordinary expenses charged by governmental bodies for open records searches. The grant application process will continue until the 2016 funding for the grants is fully awarded. 
The goal is to help community journalism organizations overcome financial challenges in open records costs to pursue enterprise related to public issues in keeping with the Headliners Foundation mission: “Promoting Excellence in Texas Journalism.” 
“Critical to journalism’s watchdog function is the use of public records,” said John Lumpkin, Foundation vice chair and chair of the grant screening committee. “Texas law provides that governmental bodies can charge for searches and other costs related to open record requests. Such charges can be an obstacle to the unfettered flow of information in smaller communities because fees aren’t scalable by market size.”  
Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis for actual charges incurred for one specific and identifiable cost – payment to governmental bodies for providing records. The maximum reimbursement per project is $2,000. A key benefit of this project would be educational experience for community journalists in using the Texas Public Information Act as a tool. The Foundation’s Professional Excellence Committee members have volunteered to serve as mentors to grant recipients on how to frame requests to acquire needed information at the most cost-effective method and how to deal with related issues. 
“Our hope is that the pilot program, if successful, can lead to a sustaining commitment in future years,” said Lumpkin. 
The committee will consider applications from newspaper, broadcast and digital news organizations in Texas counties with populations under 100,000, as well as other factors such as circulation. Exceptions may be granted to college journalism labs that report on public issues. 
More information and online grant application forms are available on the Headliners Foundation of Texas web site at www.headlinersfoundation.org.