Posts Tagged ‘nonprofit news’

DailyDev: ProPublica’s ChangeTracker

June 8, 2010

DailyDev thumbnail logo -- day 5ProPublica’s award-winning ChangeTracker mashup, which it uses to follow edits to The White House’s website, can still be cloned to monitor the site of your choice, just be sure not to try to follow this tutorial, as I attempted to. The Yahoo! pipe it says to use is busted. Here are the revised steps, still largely based on the aforementioned tutorial.

  1. Create a free Versionista account.
  2. Log in to Versionista and enter the url of the page you want to track in the blue box at the bottom of the page. Click “Monitor this URL.”
  3. You’ll be taken to a new page. With a free account, you can monitor up to four more URLs if you wish. If they’re from the same site you just entered, add them here. If they’re from a different site, complete step four, then repeat steps 2 through 4 for the other site.
  4. Click “options” at the top of the screen. Check “Make this site archive public.” Copy the url under the checkbox and save it for later.
  5. Go to ProPublica’s ChangeFeeder page to create an RSS feed for each site you’re monitoring. Paste into the box the url you copied in step 4 and append it with “all”. It should look something like “”.
  6. To give the feed a cleaner URL and to receive stats for it, run it through FeedBurner.
  7. If you wish, use FriendFeed to publish your feed on a Twitter stream.

A Maryland native, I decided to use ChangeTracker to monitor changes to recent blog and news items on the campaign websites for Maryland’s governor and his challenger, who are reversing roles from four years ago.

Finished Product

Neither of these was working perfectly last I checked. You can get an idea for what’s supposed to happen by clicking “this change” for the “June 7, 2010 7:28 PM” change on the O’Malley feed. It’s a lame change — new tweets! — but you get the idea.

versionista screengrab


  • Once you find out the tutorial you’ve been trying to follow is no longer operable, this isn’t that much work to pull off.
  • You can catch website changes you’d never notice unaided, all without visiting pages umpteen times a day.
  • Versionista helps transparency advocates practice what they preach by providing a way to share interactive archives of their own websites.


  • Like I said, I still haven’t gotten this working perfectly. This could be a problem on my end, but I’ve already invested more time than I intended in this exercise.
  • To take full advantage of ChangeTracker and monitor more than five Web pages requires a paid Versionista account.
  • Even with a tool automating the first step, culling through dozens of mundane updates to find one interesting one is still tedious!


  • Think about the sites you choose to track. ChangeTracker works well for static pages with lots of text, less well for dynamic pages with a lot of multimedia.


  • For those with more patience and time than me, definitely. ProPublica has used ChangeTracker in its reporting several times. ChangeTracker is a useful enough tool for novices but there’s no telling how expert developers could extend what Versionista and ProPublica have put together.

Journalism and Democracy: It’s Mutual

February 12, 2010

Perhaps journalism passed a valentine to democracy one year: “Psst, I like you, too.” That democracy digs journalism, the whole school knows that. That it’s mutual, not everyone guesses.

That’s right. Democracy needs journalism. And journalism needs democracy. Should have known. But, even growing up reading the newspaper, studying journalism in high school and college, working in the field for five years, and now returning to school to study journalism under the umbrella of interactive media, I didn’t. I didn’t, at least, give it much thought.

Democracy needs journalism because a representative government requires an informed electorate. Less obvious is why journalism needs democracy. Liberal media scholar Robert W. McChesney explains in “The Political Economy of Media.”

“Unless there is a citizenry that depends upon journalism, that takes it seriously, that is politically engaged,” McChesney writes, “journalism can lose its bearings and have far less incentive to do the hard work that generates the best possible work.”

The synergy between democracy and journalism, then, is at once troubling and reassuring given the transitional periods the two institutions currently find themselves in — in the United States, at least. It suggests deficiencies in either could bring the other down. But it also suggests that improvements in either could lift the other up.

It’s been a bit yo-yoey as of late. Two years ago things started to get real ugly for newspapers. At the same time, those papers were writing about a surge in political participation and the election of a president promising a new kind of politics. Now, the hard realities of governing have produced the same old partisan bickering. At the same time, new media upstarts that came of age during the presidential campaign are solidifying their voice.

Where things settle depends heavily on the actions of my generation. Idealistic and technologically savvy, the Millennials provide reason for optimism. They are civically engaged, as campaign ’08 showed, but not just in politics, but in community service as well.

On the journalism side, Millennials are well-suited to run the kind of values-driven news organizations The Reconstruction of American Journalism co-author Michael Schudson suggests will carry the industry forward.

In a speech Thursday, Schudson alluded to the journalism-needs-democracy argument, saying that journalism’s so-called golden age was a byproduct of Civil Rights, counterculture and post-Watergate activism. He offered that that era might have been a high watermark, but also that in today’s maturing information economy journalism is capable of many great things.

Sites like TalkingPointsMemo, ProPublica and VoiceofSanDiego, Schudson said, according to prepared remarks, “are springing up, and growing, and providing effective journalism, including original reporting, and so providing effective models for the future.”

One Good Thing About The Great Recession

November 9, 2009

It may not look like it now, but the past two years have been good for journalism. As ugly as it was, The Great Recession hastened the process of uncovering new models the industry already desperately needed.

Among those supporting that process is the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, whose grants are reinforcing the dwindling ranks of state capital press corps, including in my native Maryland.

Led by a Maryland journalism veteran who was State House bureau chief at the Baltimore Examiner when it closed in February, just-launched nonprofit MarylandReporter.Com plans weekday state government coverage through its Web site and subscriber-based newsletter.

Reports by its now two-man team are already getting picked up by mainstream sources, and should only increase in breadth and depth once the state’s General Assembly convenes in January. Given its narrow focus and experienced staff, MarylandReporter.Com should get its share of scoops.

Also encouraging, and something one might not expect from legacy journalism refugees, is its early embrace of social media. Even before its site went live, and even before, by their own admission, its Tweeters were fully comfortable with the tool, MarylandReporter.Com was on Twitter reporting news, establishing its brand, and engaging in conversation about both.

The rub is that MarylandReporter.Com and other organizations like it will have to find a way to earn money on their own before their seed money runs out. Even those who fail, however, won’t fail in vain. At least they’re experimenting. And, importantly, experimenting in ways that would never be feasible at larger, for-profit outlets. As journalism reinvents itself, pushing the limits and learning what doesn’t work is a necessary step for discovering what does.