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Testing travel records: methodology

Posted March 19, 2015

In an effort to test response rates to public records requests by government entities across the North Carolina, WRAL News submitted requests to 18 state agencies, including the governor and lieutenant governor.

Reporters explicitly asked for all travel records for the head of each department, division or agency for the 2014 calendar year.

All requests were sent by email in an identical format on Feb. 9 to public information officers representing each agency, with follow-ups weekly.

Communication with public affairs staff took place primarily by email to better track progress and responses, and all phone calls were recapped with follow-up emails.

To ensure consistency among agencies, reporters used a set of scripted answers to anticipated questions from public affairs staff.

Because it could have skewed the results, none of the agencies were explicitly told the requests were related to a test of response rates.

Five other news organizations – The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer, The Fayetteville Observer, Time Warner Cable News and WECT-TV – also participated in the audit using a similar methodology.

All records received in connection with the project, as well as a spreadsheet tracking response times and details, were shared between news organizations.

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