Dearest journalists, stop being jerks: Why not publish the data too?

My comrade in arms Ryan Mark sez:

The Sun-Times published the names, salaries and positions of 145,000 Illinois, Cook County, and Chicago employees on their website this weekend. The names and salaries are online in the form of a simple searchable database.

But the data is buried. There’s no way to get to a spreadsheet of this information. On paper there are physical limitations to publishing your data, but online, you’re unlimited. Why not just post the file? Ryan is spot-on:

I want a link to download a csv file. I want to plug it into Many Eyes. I want to run my own reports on it.

If I had to pick the one craziest thing about journalism, it’s this. We closely guard our sources, even from our colleagues at the same organization. We make FOIAs and file them away. And now that we’re online, we don’t link to our source materials, we don’t publish our data, and we’d never, ever link to another news source for background. WTF!?

Centre Georges Pompidou, by Thomas Claveirole
Centre Georges Pompidou, by Thomas Claveirole

We demand transparency and act with opacity

Forgive the n00b if I’m wrong, but from what I gather this attitude is the result of years of fierce competition between (and within) news organizations — we’re trying to scoop the cross town gazette.

Well, quit it!

Journalism needs an attitude adjustment. The house is burning! The ship is sinking! The, um, battlestar is circling the event horizon! Pick your metaphor — the deal is, we’re all in this together. Start playing nice, for chrissakes.

We’re here to help our readers better self-govern, and we’re failing them, because we’re being competitive assholes. And maybe — just maybe — if we give them a proper web experience, they’ll go to us instead of Google and we’ll make a buck too.

3 thoughts on “Dearest journalists, stop being jerks: Why not publish the data too?

  1. Welcome to the world of fighting “the scoop.”

    “The Scoop” is what has made journalism what it is today. I was the lifeblood of the craft. It’s what every journalist always wanted. If they had it, they treated it like a pretty, pretty pet. They would spoon it and talk to it in a cute little voice.

    The scoop mentality is killing us.

  2. I’ve got the feeling that I picked the wrong image for this post. Meet our new mascot, Scoop, the adorable little beast that’s killing journalism:

    Please, wise Dave, tell me more: What happens when you feed a story after midnight?

    (UPDATE: I gave our little friend a cap. Isn’t it fetching?)

  3. Pingback: Fun With HMDA Numbers - Flyover Blues

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