National Archives Applied Research

Media Access to Government Information Conference

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011
8:00 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.
National Archives Building
(Special Events entrance on Constitution Avenue, see map)
William G. McGowan Theatre
700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW,
Washington, DC 20408

MAGIC was a collaborative, one-day conference sponsored by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and Duke University's DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy that :

  • Explored obstacles and opportunities for access to government information by journalists and others writing about public affairs in the digital age;
  • Included government officials, reporters, scholars, and Non-Government Organization (NGO) leaders who can contribute insights into how journalists can better discover, access, and use digital government information; and
  • Informed government professionals about the use of technology to provide better access to government information

The conference was free and open to the public. Continental breakfast, lunch, and refreshments were included.

Conference Themes and Discussion Topics

The primary focus of the conference was to enable better access to government records by journalists and others writing about public affairs.


  • How can access to federal government records be improved?
  • What are the common technical challenges journalists face in making sense of government documents and analyzing government actions, and how could those be overcome?
  • What are the hurdles to gaining access to state and local records, and whose actions could make those more readily available?
  • What actions could private sector actors and institutions take to help journalists access and analyze government records?


What concrete steps could public and private sector actors take to make government records more accessible for journalists and others writing about public affairs? The MAGIC conference generated specific proposals that educated both reporters and government officials about the challenges both face in making government more transparent.

  • Practical actions for NARA, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Library of Congress (LoC), and other government entities to take to improve records access including specific recommendations for types of records to make publicly available;
  • Possible IT research to identify, evaluate and develop tools that would allow investigative reporters to tap advanced computing capabilities. Foster solutions to common technical problems in analyzing government records, including possible support for open-source software; and
  • Identify actions that private sector institutions, association or foundations might take to support access and development of tools to analyze records.

Target Audiences

  • Journalists and others writing about public affairs, including bloggers and social media users;
  • Federal government personnel at NARA, National Science Foundation (NSF), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), OMB, Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and LoC;
  • State, local, and tribal governments officials involved in archives, records and information management;
  • NGOs interested in public affairs reporting, including press associations, journalism schools, nonprofit media, and transparency organizations; and
  • Information Technology researchers

Program Schedule

8:00-8:50 Registration and Continental Breakfast

9:00-9:20 Welcome by David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, NARA; Sanford Ungar, President Goucher College, and Member, Public Interest Declassification Board

 Video MAGIC Introduction

9:20-10:30 Session 1: Media Access to Federal Government Records

Journalists and NGO participants on this panel addressed how FOIA and access to federal records might be re-tooled as the federal government implements its open government and transparency policies. Government panelists described their vision for how new policies and technologies are changing access to government records. Session topics included:

  • Institutionalizing the release of common records used to monitor agency activity rather than waiting for FOIA requests to come in;
  • Centralizing, updating, and documenting information systems on agency FOIA websites; and
  • Building openness into administrative (records collecting) systems that are eventually released to the public.

Moderator: Irene Wu, Director of Research, SAND-MNIA International Bureau, FCC

 Video Session 1, Part 1

  • Gary Bass, Founder and Executive Director, OMB Watch;
  • Sarah Cohen, Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy, Duke University;
    ( Comments)

 Video Session 1, Part 2

  • William Kammer, Chief, FOIA Division, U.S. Department of Defense, and Vice President, American Society of Access Professionals;
  • Miriam Nisbet, Director, Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), NARA
    ( Paper)

 Video Session 1 Q&A

10:30-10:45 Morning Break

10:45-Noon Session 2: Technical Hurdles, Research Solutions

Journalists on the panel identified specific technical problems in dealing with government records at federal, state, local, and tribal levels. Government officials identified specific technical solutions or research agendas to find solutions to these problems. Session topics included:

  • Re-tooling internal government information systems to improve the quality of records release;
  • Government agency support of research to improve the mining and analyzing of documents not born digital, handwritten responses on forms, and audio/video of government proceedings; and
  • Insights into emerging technologies and cyberinfrastructure that may facilitate media access to government records.

Moderator: Robert Chadduck, Acting Director, National Archives Center for Advanced Systems and Technologies ( NCAST), NARA

 Video Session 2, Part 1

  • David Donald, Data Editor, Center for Public Integrity
    ( Comments)
  • Richard Marciano, Professor, and Director @ Sustainable Archives and Leveraging Technologies group, UNC School of Information and Library Science

 Video Session 2, Part 2

  • George Strawn, Director, National Coordination Office, Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program
  • Ken Thibodeau, Former Director (Retired), National Archives Center for Advanced Systems and Technologies (NCAST)
  • Derek Willis, Web developer, New York Times
    ( Comments)

 Video Session 2 Q&A

Noon-1:30 Luncheon

1:30-2:45 Session 3: Access to State, Local, and Tribal Government Records

Journalists on this panel identified issues that arise frequently in seeking records at state, local, and tribal levels. Government panelists discussed possible solutions to making these records more easily available, and how different levels of government may leverage IT to improve access to records. Session topics included:

  • Types of records sought at state, local, and tribal level;
  • Special challenges in variations in open access policies across states and localities; and
  • Federal funds expenditure rules that might trigger more transparency at the state and local level.

Moderator: David McMillen, NARA External Affairs Liaison

 Video Session 3, Part 1

  • James Henderson, Former Director, Maine State Archives
    ( Paper)
  • Camille Jobin-Davis, Assistant Director, New York State Committee on Open Government
    ( Paper)

 Video Session 3, Part 2

 Video Session 3 Q&A

2:45-3:15 Afternoon Break

3:15-4:30 Session 4: Private Sector Actions

NGO participants discussed how they work to improve access to records, including participation in discussions to retool government records systems for better access by journalists. Session topics included:

  • What transparency advocates, journalism organizations, foundations, and academics could do to support access policies; and
  • The development of tools to aid in the analysis of government records.

Moderator: James Hamilton, Director, DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy, Duke University

 Video Session 4, Part 1

 Video Session 4, Part 2

  • Danielle Brian, Executive Director and Project on Government Oversight Bryan Rahija, Blog Editor, Project on Government Oversight
    ( Paper)
  • Charles Lewis, Executive Editor, Investigative Reporting Workshop and Professor, School of Communication, American University

 Video Session 4 Q&A

4:30-6:30 Networking Reception