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Posts Tagged ‘elections’

Campaign finance updates in real time? There’s an API for that

Recognizing an always-on political news cycle demands immediate updates, the New York Times says its updated its campaign finance API to make updates in real time. This will give them (and other apps using this Application Programming Interface, which allows outside app developers to retrieve the data collected) access to information significantly quicker than prior incarnations.

The API, which initially launched during the 2008 presidential election, previously updated every other week. In some cases, some data updated daily, according to a post about the upgrade from NYT developer Derek Willis. Now, the updates happen within minutes after the FEC receives them (updated every 15 minutes).
Read more

NICAR roundup of data journalism ideas

For those who don’t know, or haven’t seen the flurry of #NICAR12 tweets this past week/end, the best minds in data journalism met in St. Louis for the annual CAR conference put on by IRE and its National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting.

Between the hashtag and the official blog, you’ll get a good overview of initial impressions and topics covered — from avoiding data dumps in stories to harvesting trends from social media. Chrys Wu, again this year, has done a fabulous job rounding up the multitude of presentations at NICAR.

Here are five of my favorite topics, but I encourage you to bookmark Wu’s page and peruse them all, because there are some awesome ideas and tips there:

  • Human Assisted Reporting — This slideshow presents an “aha idea” that I can’t believe I never thought of: automating tasks beat reporters do regularly with data, and then programming your computer to do simple data analysis automatically. My favorite easy example of this was mining the daily police blotter for trends or keywords (who has the highest bail and what is the bail/the crime? any nurses, teachers, ministers, etc. arrested?)
  • Weathering the Storm: Using data to bolster the traditional weather story — Maybe it’s the nearly four years I spent working as a news reporter at a mid-sized paper and the dozens of weather stories I was forced to work on, but I believe there’s a special place in journo-heaven for anyone who can turn the most over-used story topic into something new and interesting for readers/watchers/listeners. Here’s your ticket to attempting just that.
  • Advanced Excel Tips — Excel is pretty much the program I use the most, and most heavily, on my work computer, after Firefox of course. So this tipsheet from the St. Paul Pioneer Press’s MaryJo Webster is not only a good refresher on bits I know well, but it also includes some great tips on doing things I haven’t quite mastered. From date functions to string functions, this is a solid list that I’ll be saving for future reference, and you should too.
  • How to use election data (and other good stuff to know) — This is actually a round-up from John Keefe of his four presentations, including one on election night and maps and election data without databases. He also covers other interesting topics, including everything you need to know about APIs, using Google Spreadsheets as your backend CMS, and hacking the Census data.
  • Build your first news app with Django — Their first step-by-step tutorial is how to build an interactive poll, with some other getting started resources.

There are many other topics covered, including on some of these same topics, as well as new tools to use and some examples of investigative data journalism at work. What was your favorite element of NICAR this year?

Google Launches Election Page

Ahead of tonight’s Iowa Caucus, Google has released a new portal site to find everything someone would ever want to know about this year’s presidential election. The site,, is a dashboard for many of Google’s products that could come in handy for following the elections.

When you go to the site, you’re greeted with a Google News-style splash of the latest campaign news. But this is not your typical Google News experience. On the left rail, users are able to filter this Google News stream by candidates or issues. Read more

5 sites to 'follow the money' in politics

by Ethan Klapper

With the midterm elections just around the corner, here are some great resources for journalists who cover government and politics to track campaign finance, lobbying and related information.

1. Federal Election Commission

It might not be the prettiest site, but the campaign finance data you see somewhere else on the Web likely originates here. This site is useful because of the sheer amount of data dumps it offers from its disclosure data catalog. Seven sets of data are offered here, ranging from “Lobbyist/Registrant Committee Statement of Organization” to “Administrative Fines.” Of course, you’ll also find “Candidate Summary” which contains general financial information about candidates.

2. Influence Explorer

A project of the Sunlight Foundation, Influence Explorer crunches the FEC data and makes it digestible for the average user. It displays a number of attractive, colorful graphs detailing the source of a politician’s political contributions. Users can also sort by company, industry and also look at lobbying information.

3. OpenSecrets

While not as attractive as Influence Explorer, OpenSecrets offers more features. With OpenSecrets, you’re able to track where members of certain congressional committee receive their donations, by industry. The site also features a lobbying disclosure database and information about political action committees. It also tells you, by cycle, who ran the most and least expensive campaigns. OpenSecrets is a project of the Center for Responsive Politics.

4. Follow The Money

While FEC data is useful for those seeking federal office (House, Senate, presidency), it does not exist for candidates seeking state or local elective office. Follow The Money, a project of the National Institute on Money in State Politics, aggregates the campaign finance data from local jurisdictions across the country and presents it in an easy to use format. It also offers a handy API and some widgets.

5. LegiStorm

Journalists love this site, while Capitol Hill staffers notoriously hate it. Why? With LegiStorm, you can look up the salary of everyone who works on Capitol Hill, from the staff assistant to a first term congressman to the chief of staff to a powerful senator. Financial disclosure forms for senators, members of congress and staff are available. In another database, you can search foreign trips that were funded by private organizations. Even more databases have information about lobbying and foreign gifts. LegiStorm is a for profit website.

The sites here offer lots of information useful to both application developers and journalists on deadline. What’s your favorite site? Please share in the comments.