Protecting US reporters’ records, data mining tools, and congressional acronym abuse

Notes and links from the data journalism beat

It seems that new data journalism tools are being released every day. The latest data journalism tools include: CivOmega, a modular prototype for government data that allows developers to plug in their own APIs and Fact Tank, a new data journalism platform from the Pew Research Center. Also, for journalists in the US concerned about protecting their own personal data, government investigators now face more hurdles when seeking a reporter’s records. And for a little data journalism levity, check out the latest project from Noah Veltman, a data journalism fellow at the BBC. Veltman used the GovTrack Bulk data API, SQL and Python to conduct a self-described “overly in-depth analysis” of Congressional Acronym Abuse from 1973 to the present.

Your links for the week:

  • The alpha of CivOmega: A hack-day tool to parse civic data and tell you more about Beyoncé’s travels (Neiman Lab)
    The idea of “a Siri or Wolfram Alpha for government data” — something that can connect natural language queries with multfaceted datasets — had been kicking around in the mind of MIT Media Lab and Knight-Mozilla veteran Dan Schultz ever since a Knight Foundation-sponsored election-year brainstorming session in 2011.
  • Introducing Fact Tank: An Interview with Pew Research Center President Alan Murray (Data Driven Journalism)
    Obviously, we collect vast amounts of data, about demographics, about a variety of issues – we are basically a data shop. In the past, most of the dissemination of our data has been done through existing media. But we also felt it was important for us to get our own data relating to news events out to the public more quickly and more directly. Additionally, we also felt it was important for us to play a role in aggregating data sets which we can then present ourselves.”
  • Five Changes to Justice Department Guidelines Designed To Protect Reporters (TIME)
    Adding yet another layer of protection for journalists chasing government secrets, Holder said the new guidelines require the intelligence community to show that any information triggering a leak case was properly classified in the first place. And the Justice Department is tightening control over news media records it obtains, limiting disclosure only to those who have a need to know; using them only in relation to the specific investigation or judicial proceeding; and storing them in a secure, unsearchable facility.
  • MapBox Plans to Bring You Super-Fresh Satellite Imagery (Wired – MapLab)
    Their goal is to have images all over the globe available six hours after they’re acquired…So who, other than satellite-image-obsessed journalists like me, will use this? I have trouble imagining who wouldn’t, but some of the users Herwig imagines include staffers in Congress and other government decision makers, post-disaster emergency response teams, NGOs like Amnesty International, the agricultural sector, commodities forecasters, ship trackers, and yes, journalists.
  • How EcoLab Wants to Reinvent Environmental Journalism (
    We think there are appealing ways of telling stories about forests, oceans and many other natural resources by playing with data, infographics and maps. With the EcoLab, we are trying to improve reporting on environmental issues by applying new technology, and using heavily data-driven stories will help the public get more engaged with environmental news and policy.
  • Legislative Acronyms: A 21st Century Phenomenon (New York Times) According to Mr. Veltman’s study of “Congressional Acronym Abuse, 1973-2013,” Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York was the most acronym-prone legislator during that period, sponsoring 43 such bills. Safe was the most popular word, appearing 131 times.
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