ProPublica Blogs the Stimulus

I really like this idea from the non-profit investigative-journalism folks at ProPublica: Bird-dog the hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus spending with a blog, “Eye on the Stimulus.

This is an organization really getting what the Web is for and what it allows them to do.

That said, it’s going to be easy to find “pork”-like stuff in the stimulus spending, like these concrete toilets for bathrooms at a national forest in Missouri. But that kind of gotcha stuff doesn’t do us much good without any context. Does the place really need toilets? Will the toilets be made in the U.S.? How much will they cost?

I clicked through to find that it’s a request for proposal that says the park needs them “to replace non-accessible structures and structures that do not meet Forest Service condition standards.” Sounds reasonable enough to me. Somebody gets paid to make the toilets, to transport them, and to install them, the money filters through the economy, and we get a better national park for the long run.

ProPublica doesn’t give readers any of that context, though. It should if it wants to be credible on what’s truly wasteful.

That’s odd because this earlier post makes my point for me, reporting on stimulus money for new skylights for a liquor warehouse run by Montana’s state government.

Still, think twice before sounding the pork alarm…

Projects like Montana’s liquor warehouse could provide fodder for stimulus critics, but it’s actually just a continuation of a twenty-year-old program designed to save the state money by reducing energy consumption.

That’s more like it.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.