database journalism
April 26th, 2007

Interesting story in Wired today about Web Mashups Turn Citizens Into Washington’s Newest Watchdogs. According to the Wired story Sites like Maplight.org, Opensecrets.org and Follow the Money, along with wiki-based political reporting resources like Congresspedia, are increasingly giving ordinary citizens the ability to easily document the flow of special-interest money and how it influences the legislature.

Anyone — from bloggers and students to lobbyists and activists — can use these sites to quickly drill down into the correlation between a politician’s vote and the money he or she received from special interests. The graphs and reports are easily shared or posted on a blog. The sites give access to data by legislator, bill number, bill subject or special interest.

MapLight.org’s open-data initiative epitomizes a technique known as “database journalism,” a new reporting paradigm that allows citizens to act as consumers, custodians and contributors to vast wells of information stored in web databases.

Say someone learns at a cocktail party that the airline industry plans to oppose an upcoming bill. With the relaunch, that information can be added to MapLight.org’s list of industries opposing the legislation. The information won’t be added to the public database until it is verified by the site’s admins, but it will show up in the user’s custom report, which they are free to share.

I guess politial candidates voting records and everything that’s connected to them can now be crawled, just as search engine crawl the rest of the world:

MapLight.org’s automated scripts scrape legislators’ voting records from government websites. Public testimonies, official congressional records and news databases provide information on which special-interest groups support and oppose each bill. The congressional data for the mid-May launch is being supplied by the CRP.

Coming soon to a blog near you: Ajax widgets that track the effects of campaign contributions on congressional votes.

With Washington’s Newest Watchdogs in the act, next year will be fun to watch.

Link: Wired Magazine


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