A large part of investigative reporting is crunching numbers and digging up source documents. Here are five websites that host digital archives of government documents, mostly acquired through Freedom of Information Act requests. Learn more about filing FOIA requests in this guide from Medill. The sites listed here are all run by private organizations. For documents and images archived by the federal government, try the National Archives.

The National Security Archive
An independent non-governmental research institute and library located at George Washington University, the Archive collects and publishes declassified documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The Archive also serves as a repository of government records on a wide range of topics pertaining to the national security, foreign, intelligence, and economic policies of the United States. The Archive won the 1999 George Polk Award, one of U.S. journalism’s most prestigious prizes, for—in the words of the citation—”piercing the self-serving veils of government secrecy, guiding journalists in the search for the truth and informing us all.”

Governmentattic.org provides electronic copies of hundreds of interesting federal government documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Fascinating historical documents, reports on items in the news, oddities and government bloopers.

The Memory Hole
The Memory Hole exists to preserve and spread material that is in danger of being lost, is hard to find, or is not widely known. This includes: government files, corporate memos, court documents (lawsuits and transcripts), police reports and eyewitness statements, congressional testimony, reports (governmental and non-governmental), maps, patents, Web pages, photographs, video, and sound recordings, news articles, books (and portions of books).

The Smoking Gun
Best known for their collection of celebrity mugshots, The Smoking Gun also features police reports and other material obtained from government and law enforcement sources via Freedom of Information requests and court files. In December 2000, The Smoking Gun was acquired by Court TV.

A website that publishes anonymous submissions and leaks of sensitive governmental, corporate, or religious documents, while attempting to preserve the anonymity and untraceability of its contributors. Within one year of its December 2006 launch, its database had grown to more than 1.2 million documents.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Carrie Ching

Carrie Ching is an award-winning, independent multimedia journalist and producer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. For six years, she led digital storytelling projects at the Center for Investigative Reporting as senior multimedia producer. Her multimedia reports have been featured by NPR.org, The Huffington Post, Rolling Stone, Grist, Time.com, Fast Company, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, KQED, PBS NewsHour, Salon.com, Mother Jones, Public Radio International, Poynter, Columbia Journalism Review and many other publications. Her specialty is crafting digital narratives and exploring ways to use video, audio, photography, animation and interactive graphics to push the boundaries of storytelling on the Web, tablets and mobile. Her work has been honored with awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Best of the West, the Online News Association, Scripps Howard, The Gracies, and was part of the entry in a Pulitzer-finalist project. Prior to her time at CIR she was a magazine and book editor, video journalist, newspaper reporter and TV comedy scriptwriter. She was on the 2010 Eddie Adams Workshop faculty as a multimedia producer working with MediaStorm to teach digital storytelling techniques to photojournalists. She completed a master’s degree in journalism at UC Berkeley in 2005.