Metadata is Part of the Public Record

A recent decision by the Arizona Supreme Court in the United States establishes a precedent regarding data about data, that’s how metadata is defined. The Arizona case had media organizations in Phoenix filing briefs on behalf of the plaintiff who had requested metadata regarding electronic notes taken by a public official.

The news media seeks public records under freedom of information. For journalists the metadata associated with electronic records could reveal much more than the public document itself. However, beware it’s a two way path. The “Lake versus City of Phoenix” appeal, I believe, sets up a model for maintenance of metadata as part of business records; news archives.

All sorts of metadata is collected about news stories and associated media. The records of metadata held by news agencies will someday be requested in a lawsuit. Is media ready to fight release of metadata associated with video or scripts?

As broadcasters and content purveyors demand more robust collection of metadata associated with their product, the ruling of the Arizona Supreme Court justices will have greater import. The justices decided unanimously “if a public entity maintains a public record in an electronic format, then the electronic version, including any embedded metadata, is subject to disclosure.” The discrimination case against the Phoenix police department deals expressly with electronic public records. I believe public documents are where it starts.

The court found all tracking and management of an electronic document can be disclosed under the Arizona Public Records Law. As a journalist I would find the ruling favorable to news gathering. However, as an executive I see the high court decision as another issue I will have to address.

The Radio Television Digital News Association reported the Arizona decision on its blog. The post is matter of fact. Interpretation and what the decision portends make for future discussion. You can leave comments here to get the conversation underway. What are you going to do with the story slug, video ID, story revisions newsroom systems track, and assignment schedules when a lawyer argues the information is part of a the record for a story that was presented to the public?

Broadcast Newsroom Computing next reminds you this is an election year in the United States.

James Rowe

Rowe and Company, LLC


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