Daily Nebraskan resolves issues over open records requests with university

NEBRASKA -- A recent dispute that had the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's administration giving the silent treatment to the Daily Nebraskan, the school's newspaper, may have been resolved.

Talks and e-mails between UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman and Daily Nebraskan Editor in Chief Brian Hernandez appear to have smoothed relations between the university and paper. The two have been at odds over numerous requests for public records made by the newspaper to the university.

"Chancellor Harvey Perlman and I have reached a resolution that will re-establish the open relationship between the administration and the Daily Nebraskan," Hernandez said in an e-mail.

At the beginning of the school year, the Daily Nebraskan's Projects desk requested multiple records from the university, including e-mails concerning the removal of two wrestlers from the wrestling team as well as a list of all Freedom of Information requests made to the university in the past four years.

The university did not see the point of the FOI requests and asked that the Daily Nebraskan be more specific with its requests. The newspaper refused, saying it was within its rights to ask for all the information requested. The Chancellor's office instructed administrators not to talk to Daily Nebraskan reporters.

In a staff editorial published on Sept. 17, the Nebraskan staff asserted the legitimacy of their requests and said that the university's refusal to speak to their reporters was unfair considering the administration was still speaking to other local newspapers.

"The documents we've requested are public records by all legal standards, and the press has the right -- just as our readers and other citizens do

-- to see these documents," the editorial said. "From the behavior of the administrators, they seem to see things differently."

The university contends that the document requests were too broad, and that the newspaper responded to requests for specificity with argumentative phone calls and e-mails.

"At no time were we standing in the way of them getting the records that they were desiring," said Kelly Bartling, UNL spokeswoman and news manager for University Communications. "We were attempting to help them refine the requests to get the records that would be useful to them in writing their stories, but the manner in which they were communicating about what they needed, and the amount of e-mails and letters and phone calls that they were sending, was making it impossible for us to apparently get them what they needed."

UNL staff member and Daily Nebraskan general manager Daniel Shattil said while the newspaper is pursuing the request for past FOI requests, the request for e-mails related to the wrestling team has been put off too long and is no longer newsworthy.

"From our perspective the requests were kind of ignored," Shattil said. "From the university's perspective, they are in compliance with the open records law."

After nearly a week of silence between the newspaper and the administration, Hernandez and Perlman met on Sept. 23 and discussed the FOI requests and how the Daily Nebraskan and the university could work through the conflict.

"Perlman and I agreed that we both want to re-establish an open relationship between the Daily Nebraskan and the administration," Hernandez said in an e-mail.

He said that he had explained the purpose of the requests to Perlman and that the chancellor had been receptive. By late Wednesday night, Perlman had e-mailed him saying that the administration "will try to be reasonably available for interviews to DN reporters."

"I'm pleased with the outcome," Hernandez added in an e-mail. "With this open access, we'll be able to interview vital campus voices again and obtain documents needed to inform our readers about important issues."

Shattil agreed that the conflict seemed to be resolved "for now."

"We're all hopeful that the situation has been resolved and we can move forward with business as usual," Bartling said.

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