Something less than half a measure
October 17th, 2006 by JTJ

A brief comment was passed along on the NICAR-L (National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting) listserv this morning by Daniel Lathrop, of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.  Said he:

Really interesting story on lobbyists-related-to-lawmakers in The USA
Today. I think those of us who cover money-in-politics should all have
a little story envy on this one.

Daniel Lathrop
Seattle P-I

Well, yeah.  An interesting story, but also one demonstrating why newspapers as institutions simply do not grasp the shift in power inherent in the Digital Age, a shift away from institutions and to citizens. 

First, the story reports: “The family connections between lobbying and lawmaking are prompting
complaints that Congress is not doing enough to police itself
.”  Fair enough, but can't you SHOW us, in the online version, the evidence to support this sweeping generalization of “prompting complaints.”  Why should we take your word for it, guys, when the evidence must be at hand.

Second, “…USA TODAY reviewed thousands of pages of financial disclosures and
lobbyist registrations, property records, marriage announcements and
other public documents to identify which lawmakers and staffers had
relatives in the lobbying business.
”  WOW!  Would I like to see those pages, and even drill down into them to see if there's anything there related to my representative.  But nooooooooo.  The paper must of had some way to manage all this
public-record data, some way to cross-reference it, to search it, to retrieve documents and
content.  Why not put all that up on the
web and let readers peruse their own subjects of interest?

Ironically, an example of the power shift mentioned above turns up, buried in a sidebar to the story, “Little Accountability in Earmarks.”  There we find reference to something called the Sunlight Foundation.  I had not heard of the Sunlight Foundation, but, hey, it's only been around since the first of the year.  It turns out this organization is doing just what newspapers should be doing: leveraging the power of the digital environment to connect people to the data and tools needed to analyze that data so they can make informed decisions.

Another opportunity missed by the industry, and tragically so.

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