Freedom of information laws are useful to the extent that they are followed. This study, based on compliance-gaining theories, employs two field experiments to examine the effect of persuasion tactics and litigation threats on agency adherence to public records laws. In Study 1, a journalist requested use-of-force reports from all police agencies in a state, mailing agencies either friendly or threatening letters, randomly assigned. In Study 2, a journalist requested superintendent contracts from school districts, mailing agencies randomly assigned versions of friendly, neutral or threatening letters. In both experiments the threatening letter resulted in slightly higher response rates, lower copy fees and faster response times, however, the friendly letter resulted in more helpful behavior from agencies. The article concludes by discussing implications for journalists, compliance-gaining theory in a legal realm, and freedom of information.
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