Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Citizen journalist fights for open government in Ga.

Citizen journalist Nydia Tisdale has been tirelessly traveling Georgia in an attempt to promote open government and educate residents about state open records laws, Timothy Pratt reports for Columbia Journalism Review. Tisdale travels to public meetings and political events to hand out books containing Georgia’s Sunshine Laws and the Georgia Law Enforcement and the Open Records Act. She also records meetings to post on the internet. (Forsyth Herald photo by Aldo Nahed: Cumming Police Chief Casey Tatum takes control of Tisdale’s tripod and camera during a city council meeting on April 17, 2012)

"Over the past five years Tisdale has made more than 800 'Nydeos,' as she calls them, chronicling the mundane machinations of local public affairs," Pratt writes. "They include council meetings and candidate forums, remarks on press freedom and Tea Party gatherings, accounts from people shot by police and ribbon-cutting ceremonies: a sort of 'hyperlocal C-Span,' as Laura Paull, former citizen journalism editor at The Huffington Post, puts it." Tisdale told Pratt, “I enjoy doing it, and I think it’s making a difference. I do feel a connection with other concerned citizens who are paying attention to what’s going on in local government. I feel I’m not alone.”

Most of videos only get a couple hundred views, or a couple dozen views, and produce no direct revenue, Pratt writes. "But Tisdale is most well-known, and has attracted a much larger online audience, for the occasions on which she has been blocked from filming. Her approach tests how faithfully elected officials adhere to open-meetings laws—and how ready the broader civic and political culture is to embrace a you’re-on-tape level of transparency. It’s an approach that has won praise from open-government advocates."

"In 2014, Common Cause Georgia gave Tisdale its Citizen Advocate of the Year award. A year later, she was named an Open Government Hero by the nonprofit Georgia First Amendment Foundation, which produces the books Tisdale hands out," Pratt writes. "The foundation’s award recognized her battle with the Cumming City Council, where officials in 2012 blocked her from recording a public meeting. After filing a lawsuit against the city, Tisdale secured a $200,000 settlement and a promise by the city to allow filming in the future. The state attorney general, Sam Olens, also took up her cause, and a judge levied a $12,000 fine against the city for a violation of the state’s open meeting law." Hollie Manheimer, the foundation’s executive director, told Pratt, “We need more of her. She shows a lot of bravery … particularly since she is filming in areas of Georgia … that are used to getting their business done without anyone paying attention.”

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