Enterprise journalism

In need of FOIA inspiration? Check your energy bill!

A team from GateHouse Ohio, including The Independent, The Repository, and The Times-Reporter, spent several months investigating the cost of electric utilities across the state. Though the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio deregulated electricity rates several years ago in hopes to lower prices for consumers, the team of reporters discovered that is not the reality.

Shane Hoover of The Repository and his fellow reporters put together a comprehensive package for readers, including a guide to reading your energy bills, a close look at how effective some efforts to cut energy costs really are, and a glossary of terms to help readers understand the material.

Hoover and his fellow journalists spent a great deal of time pouring through public records, databases, and energy cases to get the necessary data for the story, and it paid off. If you take a look at the map above provided from Quantum Gas & Power Services, you can see that utility deregulation is popular in many states. Could your readers be experiencing higher costs, too? On GateHouseNewsroom.com, we write about FOIA so much because it’s an important practice in keeping government officials and agencies accountable. Consider looking into this case in your state. It’s easy to get started, just keep in mind the following:

Each state has its own laws and regulations for FOIA, so it’s imperative to learn as much about yours as possible. However, Hoover encourages reporters not to overlook sources that are immediately in front of you.

“FOIAs and other public record requests are valuable tools, but don’t overlook the information that is sitting out there in public databases,” Hoover said.

As a reporter, it’s your responsibility to digest the information for your readers. “Documents filed with courts and many state and federal regulatory agencies are available online to the public, but most people don’t have the time or expertise to sift through thousands of pages to learn how close a pipeline might come to their house or how their electric bill is going to change.”

A reporter’s efforts in looking at these important documents can make a world of a difference for readers. Not only by saving consumers a little extra on their bill, but also by creating a more consumer-friendly community. “When reporters take the time to mine these open resources, they keep regulators and courts open and transparent,” Hoover said.

What are you waiting for? Start digging through those public databases today!

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