As noted in an earlier posting, the Sunlight Foundation has awarded us one of its “Transparency Grants” for a test in California. As the foundation noted, we intend to
develop an Election Year Demonstration Project for citizen journalism in one Congressional district. CCM will oversee the creation of a website that will seek to cover everything that can possibly be reported on a Congressional election, with an emphasis on drawing on the talents and ideas of local citizen reporters. The site will include in-depth biographical and political information on candidates, audio and video archives, campaign finance profiles, first-person reports, links to articles, etc. This project is designed to serve as a model for possible nationwide implementation in hundreds of districts in 2008.
Here are some specifics:
The working title of this initiative is “Political transparency by the people, for the people,” and the goals are several-fold.
First: In a competitive congressional district — namely California’s 11th district — we hope to create an online repository of every scrap of information about the candidates, issues and campaign.
Second: We will pick an element of this data collection — the advertising — and add value through further reporting and analysis.
Third, and most important: We will use what we learn to create a template for the 2008 election and beyond.
We plan to collect the following (and more):
- Candidate information, including biographies, position papers, financial reports and much more.
- Archive of, and/or links to, all articles and other coverage in local, regional and national media about candidates and their campaigns.
- Archive of radio and television coverage, or links to it.
- Audio and video archive from in-district appearances, collected and contributed by citizen journalists and other interested people, along with citizen reports.
- Copies of all advertising, including radio/TV spots, Web ads, pamphlets and mailers.
- Discussion boards about the candidates and the issues.
We will try to assemble the best-ever collection of audio and video from the candidates. For example, we will encourage citizens to attend public campaign events and videotape what candidates say. We also hope to collect videos of semi-public appearances such as fund-raising events. In addition, we will ask people (starting with the candidates themselves) to record and submit all broadcast/cable advertising. We’ll ask for scans of print ads, including mailers sent to people at home. (Note: It is possible that the campaign staffs may provide us with some of this material. We’ll encourage such cooperation with the project.)
The material we collect will be posted online. The site will be designed, built and initially maintained by the students in an online journalism class (J298) this fall at the Graduate School of Journalism, University of California, Berkeley. Assisting the students will be co-instructors Dan Gillmor, director of the Center for Citizen Media, and Bill Gannon, editorial director at Yahoo!, as well as Scot Hacker, webmaster at the journalism school.
We anticipate that media organizations and political activists will find the data valuable for coverage and campaign activities. But we also hope that voters, students and others will make use of it for a variety of other purposes, and that they (and, if possible, the candidates themselves), will participate in the conversations.
The Berkeley students will also look at the advertising in depth. Specifically, we hope to deconstruct it for the voters, grading it for truth and fairness.
After the election, we’ll analyze the project’s accomplishments to date and also its drawbacks. Then we’ll assemble what we hope will be a working model for people to use in upcoming elections.
We plan to hire an in-district coordinator for approximately two to three months. His or her principal task will be to organize citizen journalists; work with campaign staff and other interested parties to help ensure completeness of the data repository; and, after the election, help debrief the organizers (and public) about what worked and what didn’t.
The in-district coordinator will ideally be a resident of the district. He or she must be independent politically.
This project is nonpartisan. It is designed to help voters of all persuasions.
Keep in mind that this will be a work in progress from the very beginning. It isn’t just likely to change; it’s guaranteed to change as we learn what works and what doesn’t.
We believe this project has terrific potential. We have major advantages — including a great group of students; a budget that allows us to hire an excellent on-the-ground person in the district; and a desire to help improve American politics in a small way this year that could pay big dividends in the future.
As Ellen Miller, president of the Sunlight Foundation, wrote in her blog, “Imagine citizens taking video cameras to fundraising events, or house meetings, or conversations with senior citizens and then posting them all on a single website. Imagine combining that with first-person reports, links to articles, data bases on campaign financing, video archives of past statements, etc. etc.”
We hope you’ll imagine it with us, and suggest ways to make it work better.