Author Archives: Irene M. Wielawski

Irene M. Wielawski

About Irene M. Wielawski

Irene M. Wielawski (@wielawski), an independent journalist based in New York, is a founder and former board member of AHCJ and serves on the organization’s Right to Know Committee.

Court strikes down USDA claim that food stamp program data is exempt from FOIA

SNAPIn a victory for advocates of government transparency, a federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected the government’s arguments for withholding data on how much money individual retailers earn from food stamps.

Acting in a case brought by a South Dakota newspaper, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit unanimously ruled against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s claim that a federal law bars disclosure of retailers’ earning from food stamps.

The Argus Leader in Sioux Falls filed suit after the USDA rejected the newspaper’s Freedom of Information Act request for data on annual payments to individual retailers from 2005 to 2010. The USDA argued that a law protecting the privacy of retailers’ applications to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (the official name for food stamps) prohibited release of that information. A district court had earlier sided with the government, ruling that this information was exempt from FOIA, but the appeals court on Tuesday disagreed. Continue reading

LA Times op-ed calls for releasing information about food stamp program

Image by MapScience via flickr.

The Los Angeles Times today published an op-ed by the co-chairs of the Association of Health Care Journalists’ Right to Know Committee calling on Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to end the secrecy surrounding the multibillion-dollar food stamps program.

“The debate in Congress about cutting the food stamp program has sparked predictable clashes between those who want to help the poor and those who want to cut government spending,” the opinion column said. “But strangely missing from the arguments is a shocking fact: The public, including Congress, knows almost nothing about how the program’s $80 billion is spent.” Continue reading

Freelancing: Keys to negotiating fair contracts

Being an independent journalist doesn’t mean you have to acquiesce to the dictates of sources – or of clients. The key to having a say, though, is negotiating contract terms that provide a framework for high quality journalism.

It took me years to figure out how to build into standard contracts the tools I needed to protect the integrity of my work. As a new freelancer, I was timid about challenging these legal documents. Today, I regard every contract as a first draft, and liberally cross out language that I don’t understand or that binds me to promises I couldn’t possibly keep. Among the latter are indemnity clauses, which saddle the freelancer with legal liability for anything that goes awry in the publication process.

But it took me seemingly forever to get to where I am now so I’ve recounted my long journey in an article on AHCJ’s website in hopes of making it a shorter one for you. I’ve also collected tips and resources from fellow AHCJ freelancers. I hope this will be the start of an ongoing conversation among AHCJ freelancers on this vitally important element of sustaining yourself financially and professionally as an independent journalist. If you have a tip to share, please leave a comment and we’ll add them to the list of tips with the article.