We won: See the ruling in our case against a $45,000 records fee

Back in November, the Nebraska Journalism Trust sued the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy over what we considered an improper estimate for fees in response to a records request we filed. The request was for emails at the department related to nitrate, the chemical at issue in our 2022 “Our Dirty Water” series.

On Feb. 14, Judge Ryan Post issued an order granting our request. The state, he ruled, had inappropriately applied Nebraska’s open records law, charging us for a legal review that cannot be part of any fees.

Read the order below.

By Matt Wynn

Matt Wynn is the Executive Director of the Nebraska Journalism Trust, which launched and funds the Flatwater Free Press. He has spent 13 years at news organizations across the country, most recently on the investigative team at USA Today. He lives in his hometown of Omaha with his wife, Sarah, and three children.


Hi there,

We’re a nonprofit organization, and our journalism is a public good. From that standpoint, it makes sense to distribute our content so that it can reach the largest possible audience — and help our friends in legacy newsrooms.

Happy to chat if you’d like. My email is mwynn@flatwaterfreepress.org.

Thanks for reading.


As someone who teaches media literacy, the journalism model represented by groups like Flatwater and the Nebraska Examiner are, in my opinion, absolutely essential to the future of anything like quality journalism. The traditional advertising-based model funding journalism is falling apart, or corroding the quality of that journalism (= content driven by grabbing and holding attention, no matter the relevance/importance, quality, accuracy, etc. of that information). Of course you can require people to subscribe or otherwise pay for quality journalism–which in an ideal world they probably should. But too many are used to “free” content and won’t do this, so they rely on the “free” (and often poor-quality) journalism instead, and our fact-free/disinformation society is the predictable result. Sponsor/philanthropy-funded journalism breaks out of this mold, changes the “business model” entirely, and allows groups like Flatwater to provide their content for free to other news organizations since they don’t have to somehow “monetize” their content. And you’re therefore able to have all the other benefits Matt describes. From my perspective this model really has a chance to be a game-changer in journalism…I hope it continues to grow.



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