FOIMan reviews – and recommends – journalist Matt Burgess’s new book on FOI.

FOI book by Matt BurgessThere are lots of blogposts and articles out there on freedom of information (some of them by yours truly). There are a handful of books, some very good but all written in an academic style often by lawyers for lawyers, and perhaps not that readable for the occasional FOI user. They are usually very expensive.

So Matt Burgess’s new book, Freedom of Information: A Practical Guide for UK Journalists, gets off to a flying start because it is available in paperback for less than £25. That’s still not cheap for many of us, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the £40, £50 and more prices that most FOI textbooks will put us back.

The good news is that that isn’t the only selling point for Matt’s book. Whilst nominally aimed at journalists, most people who want to use FOI to get information from public bodies, or indeed are just interested in the subject, will get a great deal from it. And it is very readable, especially compared to other books in this area.

Matt provides a thorough, but not too heavily detailed, grounding in the essentials of the legislation – the exemptions, the cost limits, vexatious requests – before we reach the main body of the book. Here we find the real strength of this volume over other available texts. This is the incorporation of insights from people on both sides of the fence (and indeed straddling it) – users, practitioners and regulators. Matt spent a great deal of time interviewing people across the UK and beyond (and in my case, having to fend off FOI Cat as well) and the book really benefits from this range of first-hand experiences.

The temptation for any journalist or user of FOI writing a book like this is to take a cynical tack, but I was impressed by the even-handed nature of Matt’s commentary. The impression given is that the author was genuinely interested to explore how FOI works in practice, and for that reason its practical use and interest will extend well beyond its target audience of the media.

Freedom of Information: A Practical Guide for UK Journalists by Matt Burgess is published by Routledge and is available now.

Media Masterclass Discount

Early bird discount £169Journalists, bloggers and other users of the Act are invited to join Matt and I for our FOI Media Masterclass on 30 October in central London. To celebrate the launch of Matt’s book, I’m offering an Early Bird discount of 15% for bookings confirmed by the end of July. More details can be found on the FOI Media Masterclass page.