Kick Ass News Apps! — projects to inspire journos

To introduce ourselves and our skills to the Trib newsroom, Joe and I showed off some news applications we love, and that we hope will inspire the journalists here to think about telling their stories in new ways online.

For the folks who missed the show, here’s a quick rundown of what we talked about. (I am sad to say that there is no way to serve refreshments through the web, so to get the full experience, you’ll have to get your own punch and pie.)

PolitiFact’s Obameter

Politifact's Obameter

Reporters and editors from the [St. Petersburg Times] fact-check statements by members of Congress, the White House, lobbyists and interest groups and rate them on our Truth-O-Meter. We’re also tracking more than 500 of Barack Obama’s campaign promises and are rating their progress on our new Obameter.

  • Brian sez: It hits the sweet spot between software and old-school reporting. Hacker journalism at its best.
  • Joe sez: Demonstrates the power of the web to provide context over time beyond each day’s story.

Tampa Bay Mug Shots

Tampa Bay Mug Shots

Our goal is to provide a complete profile for individuals booked into jail in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Pasco counties. A complete profile on Mug Shots constitutes: name, photograph, booking ID, height, weight, age, gender, eye color, birth date, booking date and booking charge.

  • Brian sez: It’s tabloid, trashy stuff in a great-looking package. Pretty hot for a system that shows off public records.
  • Joe sez: I’m not sure how I really feel about this app, but it is a great example of making bulk data accessible to the general public.

ChangeTracker

ChangeTracker

ChangeTracker watches the White House’s web site so you don’t have to. Whenever a page on whitehouse.gov changes, we’ll let you know — via E-mail, Twitter, or RSS.

  • Brian sez: This is my project, so I’m partial, but… It’s a simple concept with many interesting uses — as both a reporting tool, and as a publishing device. Plus, it’s free and dead-easy to set up your own.
  • Joe sez: Tools like this protect us from the risk of information going down the “memory hole.”

Filibusted

Filibusted

Some senators like to filibuster and keep the majority from having their way. You might think they’re heroes. Or jackasses. Either way, they’re worth keeping track of.

  • Brian sez: It’s tightly focused site that does a great job explaining an issue that most folks don’t understand.
  • Joe sez: This one was a winner in Sunlight’s Apps for America contest. It would be easy for us to tap into the same data about legislators, bills, and votes that feed this one.

Represent and Repsheet

Repsheet

RepSheet lets you…

  • look up your elected representatives…
  • see the political zones you live in…
  • and track news about your reps.

  • Brian sez: The Times’ Represent and Windy Citizen’s loving rip-off, Repsheet, are, like Filibusted, tightly focused and explain something most folks don’t understand — in this case, the overlapping districts of representation. And they give you an easy way to follow news on what your reps are up to. Kinda hard to believe how difficult this was before, eh?
  • Joe sez: With the amount of information on the web, we need more tools like these that help people focus on what matters most to them.

Investigate your MP’s expenses

Investigate your MP's expenses

Join us in digging through the documents of MPs’ expenses to identify individual claims, or documents that you think merit further investigation. You can work through your own MP’s expenses, or just hit the button below to start reviewing.

  • Brian sez: How would *you* search through a half million pages? And the UI is wonderfully simple.
  • Joe sez: This app does a great job of keeping on the story while it’s current. Its release is an attention-grabber and can help the Guardian investigate the data even if the public’s participation is minimal or inaccurate. This Nieman Labs article provides some good lessons learned from Simon Willison, the application developer.

Many Eyes: Word tree and US Gov’t Expenses chart

Many Eyes: Word tree

Many Eyes is a bet on the power of human visual intelligence to find patterns. Our goal is to “democratize” visualization and to enable a new social kind of data analysis.

  • Brian sez: Many Eyes is a fun kit of visualization tools that are easy for anyone to populate with data and embed in a story. They’ve got maps, charts, word trees and all sorts of other neat toys to play with.
  • Joe sez: Not only are these tools a great way to provide basic data visualization, but most of them also provide readers with the ability to explore different views of the data.

Names, Lists, Photos, Stories – California’s War Dead

Names, Lists, Photos, Stories - California’s War Dead

Military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, 2001-Present

  • Brian sez: It’s a simple application that uses data to tell a story from many angles. If you’re a parent, maybe you want to see how many kids the soldiers had, or maybe you want to explore based on where they were from. Simple, but powerful stuff.
  • Joe sez: By collecting information about all of the dead, the Times creates a richer story center around which they can also aggregate their original coverage.

Know thy Congressman

Know thy Congressman

“KTC” is a bookmarklet that displays an abundance of political and biographical information about current members of the Senate and House of Representatives.

  • Brian sez: It’s a totally novel tool, a great use of public data, and incredibly useful. Plus, they probably coded it in a weekend. Love it in every way.
  • Joe sez: Another great example of how the web makes it so much more possible to provide background and context for stories.

Watching the Growth of Walmart Across America

Watching the Growth of Walmart Across America

Yesterday I quickly put together my own Walmart growth video using Modest Maps. It has the usual mapping features – panning and zooming – while you watch Walmart spread like wildfire. It starts out slow with the first location in Arkansas in 1962 and then spreads vast in a hurry.

  • Brian sez: Eye candy, for sure, but damn tasty eye candy.
  • Joe sez: Visualization across space and time tells parts of the story better than words possibly could.

Got a job

Next week, my internship at ProPublica will end. The chance to work here was an extraordinarily lucky break, and I can say without reservation that this is the best job I’ve ever had. Never before have I worked with so many brilliant, interesting, and damn nice people.

I love living in New York, and am disappointed to be leaving so soon. The Grand Army Plaza green market just turned from great to brilliant, and I only had my first, proper NYC pastrami on rye this week.

So it’s somewhat bittersweet to announce that in a couple of weeks, I’ll be leaving NYC and returning to my adopted hometown, sunny Chicago, Illinois.

The World’s Greatest Newspaper

In June I’ll start my first full-time journalism gig, as the News Applications Editor at the Chicago Tribune. The team I’ll be leading will be a new one, composed of programmers and investigative journalists, and we’ll be building news applications in conjunction with the Trib’s fantastic investigative team.

Specifically what we’ll make, I don’t know, but I anticipate building a wide variety of data-driven web applications to visualize data and present investigative stories online. (If only the PolitiFact crew hadn’t set the bar so high…)

For the nerds in the audience

What I do know is that we’ll be using Python, Django and lots of other open-source tools. Chicago has quietly become a very important place in the open-source world — the Second City is home to both Django and Ruby on Rails, the two hottest web frameworks — and I’m committed to making the Chicago Tribune a contributing member of the community.

If you haven’t figured it out yet — I’m geeked. This’ll be fun.

So, adios, City That Never Sleeps. The City That Works is calling me home.