ProPublica Welcomes All Nerds

ProPublica has just launched what they call their “Nerd Blog” to highlight their latest developments in news applications. (“So what the heck is a ‘news application’? It’s an interactive web page that uses software instead of words and pictures to do journalism.”)

The first blog post explains the thinking behind what kinds of programs they choose to build, and how they use them:

We tend not to simply put pretty interfaces around publicly available data, but instead analyze the data, clean it up, and mash it together with other data to help tease out trends and outliers. Our Recovery Tracker tracks stimulus spending in thousands of counties in the U.S. It predates, and covers more data, than the government’s own

We use comparisons to build narratives: For example, our Unemployment Insurance Tracker exposes how skyrocketing unemployment, and in some cases poor planning, have left some states’ unemployment insurance trust funds facing insolvency – while other states have relatively healthy programs.

Our projects should also help readers find what’s relevant to them and their communities: How does my county compare to the next county when it comes to stimulus revenue? How does my mortgage servicer compare to others when it comes to completing loan modifications for underwater homeowners?

ProPublica—like the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times—makes much of their software code publicly available for anyone to use. For instance, the Nerd Blog points out that their open source program “Recovery Tracker has been used as a data source in over 100 local stories about stimulus funding.” So ProPublica is sharing not only the stories resulting from their data investigations, but the means for other news organizations to find their own stories, as well.

Kudos, ProPublica! News nerds everywhere thank you.

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Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner