How a former Denver Post journalist helps everyone in Colorado get public records

From Columbia Journalism Review:  This summer, Jeffrey Roberts fielded a call at his office in Denver. A resident of Elbert County, southeast of the capital, had noticed something curious: The county assessor maintained a website where the assessed value of local homes, considered a public record under Colorado law, was readily accessible. But the records for properties owned by certain local officials—including the assessor—were hidden from view.

Roberts, a veteran journalist with 23 years of experience at The Denver Post, went into action. He traveled to Elbert County, interviewed the county assessor, spoke to experts who said nothing in state law allowed the records to be kept confidential, and published a story about it. Five days later, he had another story: The assessor had posted the records online.

It was a clear example of journalism with impact. But Roberts, 56, hasn’t worked at the Post since his position as an editor was eliminated in 2007, during a round of newsroom cuts.

Instead, for the past two years he’s been the director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, a nonprofit alliance of news organizations, good-government groups, and others with an interest in transparency. The CFOIC helps journalists and citizens fight for open access to government records and meetings, tracks legislation and court rulings, and hosts panel discussions. Roberts pens a frequently updated blog about transparency news statewide, fields calls to a hotline, and publishes online guides. And, on occasion, he also publishes his own reporting, like the story out of Elbert County.

“I still see myself as a journalist,” Roberts says. “I have other roles as well. When I was a writer and an editor at The Denver Post I did not see myself as any kind of advocate. But in this role I have to be an advocate.”

An advocate—and a resource. In a state where access to records leaves much to be desired, Roberts has emerged as the go-to guy for journalists and citizens who need help prying information from reluctant government entities.

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