Samizdat was “a key form of dissident activity across the Soviet bloc in which individuals reproduced censored publications by hand and passed the documents from reader to reader.”1 Think self-publishing, think self-publishing on things that, presumably, are contentious, controversial, covert … at some point, forbidden.
In that spirit, I’ve devoted this site to entrepreneurship-related journalism. To startup-related investigations. To reportage on what’s going on in terms of startups and commercialization.
1. My limited mission — unpleasant facts pursued with journalistic fervor in at least three regions: Rochester, NY, New York City, and Central Illinois.
That probably sounds a tall order. Well. I spend my time between Rochester, NY, New York City and Urbana, Illinois, so I’ll mostly be covering aspects of all three of those geographies. As much as I’d like to talk about entrepreneurship everywhere, that’s too tall an order for me.
2. Yes, I’m very qualified.
You might wonder about this, so let me be clear — I know whereof I speak. I’m a Ph.D. in molecular biology, and a lawyer too. I’m a licensed patent attorney — have patent will travel. And I’ve spent the last 10 years building companies, structuring technical direction in combination with legal structure, and wrapping all of that in a thick cushion of patent filings. How successful have I been? Well, the last company I was involved in was sold recently for North of $50M. I can’t claim responsibility for all of that, but I’d like to think I was very helpful in reaching that nice number.
That’s the startup/entrepreneurship side, As for journalism, I’ve found myself more and more involved in startup-related journalism over my career — I’ll be very honest about it and say this came about through frustration at the ease with which much of the “entrepreneurial ecosystem” elides its way over the truth in order to arrive at “facts” that benefit those individuals, and no one else.
3. What I aim to accomplish with this mission of startup/entrepreneurship-journalism.
I work full-time to build companies; this site is not a front end for work for me, and I want to make that very clear. This site is an expression of my intent to give back to the honest startups and entrepreneurs out there — and to put a pox on dishonest dealings.
To disseminate the truth by all means possible. To ferret out the truth with classic journalism — and with modern advances like a DDoS-FOIA approach.
4. Why you’re reading, and how you can help.
I’d love to have others involved in what I’m doing; DDoS-FOIA alone requires others, and in this I’ve already been blessed with people who are motivated enough by what I write to take up their own investigations.
But the more the better, this is not a single-person venture, it requires as broad a set of citizen muckrackers as possible.
Now of course, I know that some of my readers are the people I’m investigating, and I know they’re reading for the sole purpose of frustrating what I’m doing. That sounds paranoid; unfortunately, it’s not. UIUC-FOIA, for example, is now surveilling this site, something I’ve found out from a contributor. And there are probably others.
To these people I’d like to make a couple of points. First, your jobs are almost uniformly to see that the public gets public information, and not to suppress and censor.
Second, suppression and censorship aren’t going to work; what you’re going to end up doing is looking the mindless functionaries you all too often are.
5. Why this site is a non-profit.
This site is a non-profit because non-profit status allows for access to FOIA law exemptions that otherwise don’t apply. The one that I’m most interested in is the ability to file as many FOIAs as desired without being hit with “vexatious filer” status.
Keep in mind, though, that with great power comes great responsibility. I have no interest in being unkind to any FOIA officer — they’re people too — and I always aim to work my FOIA filings to allow the FOIA office a reasonable time for replies, even though I’m not obligated to do so.
But non-profit status allows an edge not otherwise available; and it’s a direct action to back up my stated intent — journalism, about startups, about entrepreneurs, and about the sausage-making that too often occurs behind the scenes.
6. Standard language to be recited to my friends at the UIUC-FOIA office.
Dear UIUC-FOIA people. Please note that you will treat all requests from me (Andrew Scheinman) or from my website (samizdat-startups.org) as one made by the “news media” under 5 ILCS 140(2)(f), and therefore exempt from the “recurrent requester” section of 5 ILCS 140(2)(g).
Specifically, the news-media is defined in 5 ILCS 140(2)(f) as:
(f) “News media” means a newspaper or other periodical issued at regular intervals whether in print or electronic format, a news service whether in print or electronic format, a radio station, a television station, a television network, a community antenna television service, or a person or corporation engaged in making news reels or other motion picture news for public showing.
Recurrent-requester status and the exemptions to this status are defined by 5 ILCS 140(2)(g):
(g) “Recurrent requester”, as used in Section 3.2 of this Act, means … For purposes of this definition, requests made by news media and non-profit, scientific, or academic organizations shall not be considered in calculating the number of requests made in the time periods in this definition when the principal purpose of the requests is (i) to access and disseminate information concerning news and current or passing events, (ii) for articles of opinion or features of interest to the public, or (iii) for the purpose of academic, scientific, or public research or education.
In my case, I am appropriately classified as a “news media” filer because, during the course of 2014 I issued reports of my FOIA results at regular intervals to the West Urbana Neighborhood Association (WUNA) listserve, and because from December, 2014, on I have provided exposes on the abuses of your office at regular intervals on my website, samizdat-startups.org (as well as communicating these results to various media outlets for the entire period). In both these time periods my intent was to access and disseminate information concerning news and current or passing events, particularly abuses of Illinois FOIA law by your office, as well as abuses by various units of UIUC, including particularly the Research Park.
Although the above alone is enough for me to be exempted from possible classification as a “recurrent requester,” I also note that I am in the process of obtaining non-profit status, and that I expect to have completed that process shortly. Therefore, if you are inclined to try to claim that I am not exempt under the “news media” exemption – an action which I will immediately appeal – you are on notice that I will also qualify as a non-profit.
Please note that I can likely also claim scientific status, since I have a PhD in molecular biology and am an expert at commercialization and startups. I can also likely claim academic status, as I am an Entrepreneur-in-Residence (“EIR”) at Barnard College. I am not currently availing myself of exemption on either of these bases, but I reserve the right to make it as I choose at a later date.
Please further note that I am well aware of your strategy of defeating FOIA requests by claiming “undue burdensomeness” when a single email has multiple questions. To this end, I intent to file my FOIA requests with only a single question per email request, or with multiple questions per email request, with each to be treated as a separate request. I trust that either/both of these approaches will defeat this pathetic attempt on your office’s part to suppress access to public information.
That said, I do realize that some of the people in your office are not well paid (e.g., not Mr. Hardy or Ms. Clower), and I do not wish to make their lives miserable. Therefore, I will be happy to entertain delaying the time of production of any FOIA I have filed, with the understanding that I will accord such delay as a privilege to your office and not a right. That is, you will need to obtain prior approval from me for such delay.
Finally, while I obviously cannot control your actions, I note that the behavior of your office is not putting you in a good light. For example, I refer you to my journalistic post at http://www.samizdat-startups.org/wp/we-can-do-it-we-can-buy-uiuc-foia-a-date-and-time-stamp/ where I noted that apparently your office’s standard business procedures do not include the use of an actual timestamp. The analogy I have been using to describe the ludicrousness of your office’s behavior is to liken it to that of a householder at Halloween who takes his own paper bag out to his neighbor’s lawns, picks up the excrement on those lawns and puts it in the bag, goes back to his own doorstep, sets the bag down, sets it on fire, and stamps on it. And then screams that he’s inadvertently and unintentionally stepped in it.
You can obviously act this way if you want to, but I for one can’t for the life of me see what you think you’re getting out of it. Certainly you’re not helping your own reputation or that of the great university where you’re employed. The great university that is my Alma Mater, as well as that of my mother, and where my father taught engineering for many years.
Thank you for your attention to this FOIA. I will look forward to your prompt reply.
Dr. Andrew Scheinman