Tribune DataViz

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Archive for the ‘Kick ass’ Category

“I hope it is a hacker reading this.” Chris’ kick-ass cover letter.

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In celebration of Chris’ first year as a hacker journalist, and as an encouragement to job seekers everywhere, I present to you the best cover letter I’ve ever read. Click through to read the annotations on DocumentCloud.

Written by Brian Boyer

October 5, 2010 at 9:17 am

Posted in Jobs, Kick ass

Accountability applications we love^H^H^H^H want to love

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We’ve been thinking about accountability a lot lately. Here’s a quick run down of applications that we find inspiring. okay.

UPDATE: This post was originally titled “Accountability applications we love”, but in retrospect, data without context makes our eyes go cross. There are sparks of storytelling in each, but that’s all they may ever accomplish. (Politifact and Represent are the exceptions, of course, they’re context-rich.) LittleSis is a fun site to browse, but at best it’s a research tool. A place where you’d start, not where you’d finish. I *love* Follow the Money’s scatterplot, but we can aim higher. Our role as a news organization is to seek out and report stories — to interpret the data and infer meaning — not just shine a light. More to come. — Brian combines three data sets:

  • Bill texts and legislative voting records
  • Supporting and opposing interests for each bill
  • Campaign contribution data from the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics

Joe: I’m interested in the bill level charting of contributions.

Ryan: It has lots of data. The site is very confusing, but it has lots of data. It’s a great research tool, maybe not great for a casual audience.

Brian: Not just national. They launched a version for LA last spring.

Open Congress

Merging official government data with news and blog coverage, social networking, and public participation tools to give you the real story behind what’s happening in the Congress.

Ryan: The thing I love most about this site is how it fosters community. Users can follow pols and bills, contact their representative, share via other social networks and they can voice their support for legislation. This is how democracy should work in the Internet age, IMHO.

Chris: The ability to track particular bills that you find meaningful takes the overhead out of being engaged at the national level.

Brian: I like that you’re encouraged to send letters to their congressman, and that people post them in the comment feeds.


The political districts you live in. Who represents you. And what they’re up to.

Ryan: It’s super simple, and has functionality we would have to have in our app. Not a huge fan of how it mixes up votes and news, but it is still useful.

Chris: I’m very happy to see that this application gives you a one-stop-shop to examine the activity of your elected representives from the local, regional and national levels.

Joe: The natural interface for starting people with their personal context. Kudos to the Times for including news from external sources.

Brian: I love that it reveals the shape and size of your representative districts — folks just don’t know this stuff. And the ability to subscribe to your reps is amazing.


A free database detailing the connections between powerful people and organizations.

Our data derives from government filings, news articles, and other reputable sources. Some data sets are updated automatically; the rest is filled in by our user community.

Ryan: It’s well designed, easy to navigate, and it is wikipedia-like attention hole. You can just keep clicking and clicking on interesting stuff. I like the way it focuses on the relationships.

Brian: LittleSis attempts to connect a *lot* of dots. It calls itself an “involuntary facebook” — showing you more than just names, but profiles and connections of players in the game.

Follow the Money

Comprehensive and verifiable campaign-finance database and relevant issue analyses.

Ryan: It has a great database of money in politics: companies, pols and individuals, all the way down to specific contributions. The database also has a few years of historical data. But it really shines in it’s visualizations.

Brian: More tools for browsing the influence of money, including compelling and statistically interesting (and reader-respectful!) visualization tools, like this one…

Mini Pulse for IL 2008

Politifact and the Obameter

Every day, reporters and researchers from the Times examine statements by members of Congress, the president, cabinet secretaries, lobbyists, people who testify before Congress and anyone else who speaks up in Washington. We research their statements and then rate the accuracy on our Truth-O-Meter – True, Mostly True, Half True, Barely True and False. The most ridiculous falsehoods get our lowest rating, Pants on Fire.

Joe: Prototypical example of incremental journalism only possible on the web. Small reports gather weight over time and provide context.

Ryan: The wonderful example of how reporting can be presented online outside of a traditional story. We can augment simple databases of numbers and facts with reporting and add important context.

Chris: Leverages the power of aggregation to provide an insight into political truths and half-truths that would be almost impossible without the web.

Brian: I love their use of ‘link journalism’ — write what’s news, and link to the background, like in their recent piece on health care facts.

Project Vote Smart

The backgrounds and records of thousands of political candidates and elected officials… their voting records, campaign contributions, public statements, biographical data (including their work history) and evaluations of them generated by over 100 competing special interest groups. Every election… volunteers test each candidate’s willingness to provide citizens with their positions on the issues they will most likely face if elected through the Political Courage Test.

Brian: Like many of the sites above, it’s a bit ugly and hard to use, but I especially like Vote Smart’s aggregation of issue positions and ratings by interest groups.

Written by Brian Boyer

March 19, 2010 at 10:37 am

Posted in Kick ass