This guide was created for the Society of Professional Journalists, Region 11 Conference 2014. It provides an overview of government information for practicing journalists and journalism students. It addresses some of the more challenging areas of government information, but it is not intended to be comprehensive.
Government publications refers to works published by a government agency either in print or online. Government records arer the individually recorded transactions of the government. In libraries, the term government documents refers to publications, while government records are unpublished and are usually stored in archives or records centers. Together, government publications and records constitute forms of government information. Understanding the difference between government publications and government records will help you to know where to go to find this information, or whether there is any possibility of viewing it.
Example 1: Tax forms
Individuals' tax returns are government records that are not accessible unless the individual publicly releases the return, as did President Obama.
Statistics of income provides aggregated statistics gathered from individual and corporate tax returns.
Example 2: Census surveys
Individual responses to census surveys are records stored at the Census Bureau. They are embargoed for 72 years, at which point they are released by the National Archives.
Aggregate census data is published continuously. It usually takes two to three years for data to be aggregated and published.