An interview with Professor Emily Erickson-The Watchdog Joins the Fray: The Press, Records, Audits, and State Access Reform

By: Isla Huerta, David Peach, Devin Guevara, Antoine Dinh

Professor Erickson is an associate professor at Cal State Fullerton where she teaches Comm Law and Media and Society. Professor Erickson has several published articles that are in the realm of law review, but the article that we chose to base our research around is the article, The Watchdog Joins the Fray: The Press, Records, Audits, and State Access Reform. The article is about how journalists have crossed into the realm of politics so that information can become more accessible. In our interview with Professor Erickson we ask her a series of questions that give us an insight of how she conducted her research and why she chose to do research on this topic.

What made you choose to research about the watchdog element of journalism?

Being that Erickson is a professor in law, she is well versed in the ideas of information and how it should be presented legally and if it is legal to obtain in the first place. Her article, The Watchdog Joins the Fray: The Press, Records, Audits, and State Access Reform is a research piece that focuses on the free flow of information and the access to it by the general public. In our interview, Erickson states that there are three main groups or occupations that have to deal with freedom of information – those being: librarians, lawyers, and journalists. For her research she was set to create a “group” that would do audits in seven different states in order to find out if the information that was supposed to be public really was public and accessible. When these groups set out, Erickson learned that not only was the information inaccessible, but the journalists who went for the information were displeased with the lack of cooperation with the states. This led to the journalists trying to push for more accessibility to the information effectively making them activists on the side of freedom of information and putting more pressure on the states to allow free flow. Erickson stated that this surprised her and it was not something that was planned but certainly welcomed as the watchdog of journalism was in full effect though her research

How was the research conducted?

Professor Emily Erickson said that it was a painstaking process, but there were seven different case studies. Gathering information from seven different states as well wasn’t easy, but it took time and patience. One of the types of research that she included was multi prong research and she took interviews of 100 people who were involved with the freedom of information. This included lawyers, politicians, journalists, and editors. Another form of research that was included was statutory analysis and she created a typology from the information that was gained from the statutory. Historical analysis was key in this research. In order to do this, Erickson read countless press coverage about freedom of information and audits in the seven states. The last form of research that she used was political science theory to understand groups and coalitions. Looking over the work and information that was gained, Erickson said that she did too much research, but it was necessary to make sure all the information was correct and accurate. The amount of research that was done made it possible to gain all the information needed about state audits, freedom of information, public records, to help make the watchdog possible.

What challenges did you face throughout your research?

When we asked Professor Erickson about what her challenges were throughout her research, she answered by saying she felt like throwing her hands up and her mind was spiraling into despair when she was researching about finance and corporate speech related stuff. She explains that she is currently going through this with her partner Matt with the paper that they are currently doing. She says that the problem is that they can try pointing something out, but who really cares about their point because whoever they are researching about knows what they are doing so why even bother.

Professor Erickson mentions that with legal research, what you want is to be cited. You want your ideas to ultimately find their way into arguments that are made in court. One of the papers that Matt and her did was called “Transformative You”. She explains that the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards have submitted an amicus brief, which is an argument that supports one side of a case. Since their amicus brief has been submitted to the Supreme Court, someone at the Supreme Court will potentially see their names if their research is used. Erickson goes on to explain that if you read court cases, you would know that court opinions will actually cite research from researchers like her. She says that getting cited is the goal and her challenge is being able to write something that will get cited. Something that is persuasive enough and well-articulated enough to make it to the big stage.

With Erickson having such a huge goal, perfectionism is her biggest challenge. She always goes crazy about making every little thing perfect, but not because she thinks that she’s perfect, but because the self doubt in the back of her mind is telling her that this is not perfect. She has a big goal so she wants everything to be completely perfect and wants everything to be good in order to accomplish the goal.

Professor Erickson never went to law school and because of that it has caused her to have imposter syndrome since she self learned almost everything in regards to law. She mentions that she has taken a couple law classes in grad school for her PhD that was in her area of study, but she’s never had 2 years worth of hardcore law training. So what comes easily for other people didn’t come easy for her, especially since they were taught how to turn these things out and she wasn’t. She advises that students should fight the imposter syndrome as hard as they can and that most of us feel that challenge at some point in our lives when we really don’t know what we’re doing. Confidence is the key even if you don’t feel like you know what you’re doing, carry yourself with confidence because it can really take you a long way.

“If you’re never failing – it probably means you’re never taking any meaningful risks.”

Emily Erickson

Was there anything that surprised you when conducting your research?

As we began to do our own research we asked Professor Erickson if there was anything that surprised her to see if we should expect any surprises. Erickson goes on to say that when doing her research she was not expecting journalists to be activists since journalists are supposed to be seen as independent from those they write about. This is surprising because throughout the history of journalism there has always been a specific way of writing a story and journalists are really only supposed to objective. Professor Erickson feels very strongly that journalism needs to change and she says, “you shouldn’t just follow this basic idea that in itself is not truth”. Having a newsroom that is filled with diversity that is not just about race and gender, but also about diversity of backgrounds can bring a fresh perspective to different things. With her new findings Professor Erickson believes that the new generation of journalists can change journalism for the better and strive to give journalists their own voice when writing their stories.

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