Many Americans don't put much stock in campaign promises. But President Obama seems to be following through on his word when it comes to more transparency in government, and Data.gov is one of the best places to see that transparency in action. The site allows the public to find, download, and use data sets that are generated and held by the federal government with the hope of improving access to federal data and expanding creative use of that information.
In October, Data.gov made issues of the Federal Register dating from 2000 available in XML format, allowing users to take data from a website and store it, reorganize it, or customize it elsewhere. According to The Washington Post, "The de facto daily newspaper of the executive branch publishes approximately 80,000 pages of documents each year, including presidential disaster declarations, Medicare reimbursement rates, and thousands of agency rulings on policies ranging from banking to fishing to food." By making all of that information readily available to the public, the government is surely hoping to encourage dialogue, as well as new ideas.
In its day the Federal Register was considered a model of open government, and it seems only fitting that it should be part of a new bid for transparency and accountability in government. In the meantime, the Obama administration has been reaching out to state and local governments, urging them to set up similar sites with access to machine-readable data-both California and Nevada have done so.
The web is impacting journalism in more ways than one. Unlike many sites on the internet, Publish2 isn't all about abandoning journalistic standards in the name of opening up reporting to the masses. Instead, co-founder and CEO Scott Karp started Publish2 to create a link-based online newswire for individual journalists and news organizations, making it easier to share the wisdom of the larger web without compromising quality reporting.
Publish2 has two main purposes: sharing links and curating the real-time web. Members can save and organize links in their accounts, and they are able to share content with fellow journalists. Think of it as Digg for journalists. On the real-time side, Publish2 lets users save tweets and YouTube videos and then automatically retweet or share on their websites. Users can also start or join groups. For instance, sports journalists can join a group specifically for sports journalists and then share their links with the group. Organizations can also create accounts, allowing reporters from the same newsroom to collaborate. Publish2 also offers a bookmarklet for one-click linking and the ability to import shared items from Google Reader.
What really sets Publish2 apart, though, is its commitment to journalism, and others are taking notice. The company won the inaugural Gannett Foundation Award for Technical Innovation in the Service of Digital Journalism at the Online Journalism Awards in October. All members of Publish2 have to abide by the editorial standards of the community: maintain editorial independence from governmental, commercial, or special interests, and do not engage in public relations, marketing, and lobbying; do not plagiarize; do not trade coverage or favored treatment for money, gifts, or favors; clearly disclose any conflicts of interest; be accurate and honest; and be accessible and accountable to the public. News organizations have a slightly different set of standards to agree to: clearly differentiate paid placements, advertisements, and noneditorial content (such as press releases) from editorial content; and adhere to, and preferably make publicly available, a set of journalism standards or an editorial code of ethics. All members go through a quick vetting process during sign-up to verify that they are actually journalists. In other words, amateurs need not apply.
If you've ever found yourself complaining about the quality and content of commercial news broadcasts, Spot.Us might just be the solution you've been looking for. This site-founded by David Cohn and funded in part by the Knight Foundation-takes public broadcasting to a whole new level by actually letting people fund the stories they are interested in. You'll never have an excuse to complain about news coverage again.
Spot.Us is a place where community members, reporters, and news organizations come together to collaborate. Community members can provide tips, or story ideas. Reporters interested in following up on a story can create a pitch; community members who provide the tips are then notified that their story idea may become a reality. That is where the donations come in. Interested parties can help fund the story, the price of which is determined according to Spot.Us guidelines. Donations are tax deductible, and if a news organization buys the exclusive rights to the story, all donations are reimbursed. If a story doesn't reach its fundraising goal, the reporter can agree to do the story with whatever money was raised or cancel the pitch and return the donations. The site also provides a peer-review editor to ensure accuracy and fairness and to act as a sounding board. Other reporters can also apply to join the team and share the workload of a particular story.
All finished stories are licensed under Creative Commons. Spot.Us works with local news organizations to gain as much exposure for a story as possible, which means that unless a news outlet buys exclusive rights to the story, the story will be available for use free of charge to anyone, providing content free of charge to news outlets-many of which may be struggling to fund their own reporters. In this arrangement, everyone wins: The audience gets the news it wants, reporters get paid, and news outlets get free, quality content.