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Advice for Students

News Story tips: FOIs

19 July 2022
Keyboard by Nick Youngson via Alpha Stock Images (
Keyboard by Nick Youngson via Alpha Stock Images (


On the MA News Journalism course you will be expected to write one article per week for the first half of the year, increasing to two a week in the second.

While seemingly daunting, you will be given a patch to focus on. At first it is difficult and sometimes over whelming. This series will guide you and give you ideas.

Today’s topic – Freedom of Information requests and Environmental Regulations (an environmental FOI).

These give you the right to information from over 100,000 public authorities, ranging from schools, hospitals, councils and even entire government departments – not that you would need that for The Cardiffian.

FOIs are really useful for you this year, as well as your future as a journalist.

I found that sending the council FOIs were really helpful to find new original stories, here are some examples of when I used them:

You have to be careful when you send these requests as you may be rejected if they consider these requests ‘vexatious’ or similar to previous ones. They can also reject you if the information you are requesting is ‘exempt’ (such as security information) or if the cost of finding out the data is too high.

Public authorities have twenty days to return their response to your request, so these are good back burner stories – don’t pin your hopes on a response for that week’s story.

You should also be very careful how you phrase your FOI as you have to be very specific, otherwise they will not give you the information.

For example, when I was looking into the fly tipping issue in Grangetown, this is what I sent Cardiff Council:

Dear Cardiff Council,

I am writing to you under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to request the following information from Cardiff Council. Please could you provide me with:

  • The number of fly tipping reports in Cardiff separated by ward for the past three years.

Thank you for your time,

Rowenna Hoskin


In this request I have specified exactly what data I require, the time period and the locations.

Often you can send the Council requests for information without these which take less time but sometimes they request you to send them an FOI as there is too much information to collate.

To find the subjects for your FOIs talk to people, keep an eye out when you are walking, and if any ideas pop into your head write them down on your phone.

I would honestly say that FOIs were my saving grace this year. They gave me the opportunity to find out information that was important to local residents that had not yet been reported.