Today’s Crowdsourcing Choice: Help ProPublica Track Political Ads, or Help the Internet Trash Trayvon Martin
Call today a study in crowdsourcing contrasts. First, the good: public-interest news outlet ProPublica is asking citizens to help track political advertising by candidates and outside groups like SuperPACs (they need assistance because the FCC has balked at making local TV stations publish online the records of the political ads they’re running). ProPublica’s solution is to assemble an army of ad-trackers to physically go to the stations, request the documents (which must be made public, but only on paper), scan them and email them in to a central repository. A heavy lift, but they’ve already overseen a successful effort in Chicago and are hoping to build a network of spies in Wisconsin before that state’s primary election on April 3rd.
We’ve looked recently at ProPublica’s reverse-engineering of an Obama campaign fundraising email, and I bet their reporters — and the citizens who volunteer to help — will have just as much fun finding trends in this advertising data. With so many newspapers having gutted their investigative journalism programs, projects like ProPublica are about all that’s left to fill in the gap. Citizen journalists can help, whether they’re scanning documents or analyzing piles of them posted online.