The Obameter launched in January as part of the St. Petersburg Times' PolitiFact project (winner of a much-deserved Pulitzer prize). It keeps tabs on 500-plus promises made by then-Senator Barack Obama as he campaigned for president over the last two years.
Actually, I should rephrase that: The application doesn't track anything. It provides a structure for reporters to keep tabs on what Obama promised during the 2008 election. And that's really the key thing that defines a framework for reporting. Reporters and researchers and editors are still the main drivers of the story.
Here's how Matt Waite, who built it, explains the relationship between the Obameter's technology and its journalism:
PolitiFact may not look like traditional journalism, but it very much is. It's a story type that's been around for decades, a type of accountability journalism that's been around much longer than that. The difference is that we aren't just creating a field for a headline and a field for a story and calling it quits. The difference is that we view content as data and the database as an act of journalism in itself. Each promise in the database is a piece of journalism and a piece of data. And all the acts of journalism that combine to make up the database form one meta act of journalism. But without using data as an organizing principle, most of what makes PolitiFact more than just a collection of stories would be impossible.
(from Matt's post Data = Content: Content = Data)
What hooked me with the Obameter is the potentially monstrous task of collecting, organizing and tracking 517 promises. As I noted in a comment on Matt's post (the one quoted above), following campaign promises that may or may not be fulfilled over four years is difficult for two reasons:
- There are a lot of things to keep track of, and
- There's rarely a schedule for when they'll get done.
On the technical end, Matt said (in a reply to my comment) the Obameter handles this with two fields on each promise model: a notes field, and a date to next check up on the promise's progress. On the editorial side, reporters divided up promises and cover them much like a traditional beat.
I've done a lot of beat reporting. As Matt said above, without any organizing principal and an understanding that stories are structured data, each report sits by itself with no context except what can be crammed into boilerplates.
When the database is the story, we don't have to start over every time. Readers can dive in, catch up and go as deep as they want.
- The Los Angeles Times: Mapping LA: The LA Times set out to create a comprehensive picture of the city, which is harder than it might sound if you've never spent time in LA. Reader comments helped reporters redraw neighborhood boundaries and provide a clearer sense of what it's like to live in the city's many enclaves.
- The New York Times: Living with Less: The NY Times provides a space for people to talk about how the recession is affecting them, with lots of ways to participate. Each piece adds to a much deeper story about today's economy.
What else is out there?