Journalism in the Public Interest


The ProPublica Nerd Blog

Design Principles for News Apps & Graphics


While the tools and techniques to present large datasets in graphics and news apps may differ from project to project, the basic design principles stay pretty much the same. Many might pretty familiar – even if you’ve never studied design formally, you probably know some of them instinctively. Let’s name them, explain why they work and see how other designers use them. Once you recognize the concepts, you’ll become more conscious of when and how to use them in your own projects.

News Applications Fellow

We’re looking for the next great News Applications Fellow to work with ProPublica’s world-class news applications desk.

It's a great fellowship for, among others, a coder who's civic-minded and interested in working with journalistic problems and data sets, or a j-school grad who wants to tell stories with code, or a digital humanities student looking to try their skills in journalism. You’ll work side-by-side with the best newsroom developers on the planet, on some of the biggest and most innovative projects in investigative and data journalism. You will leave here a better journalist, a better designer and a better developer.


Your Hospital May Be Hazardous To Your Health

As part of our ongoing investigation into patient safety, ProPublica reporters Marshall Allen and Olga Pierce produced this interactive story in collaboration with PBS Frontline and Ocupop during a May 11-16 hackathon.


Prescriber Checkup

Medicare’s popular prescription-drug program now serves more than 35 million people, but the names of prescribers and the drugs they choose have never previously been public. Use this tool to find and compare doctors and other top prescribers in 2010.


Nonprofit Explorer

Use our database to find almost 616,000 tax-exempt organizations and see details like their executive compensation, revenue and expenses, as well as download their tax filings going back as far as 2001.

Resources for Investigating Tax-Exempt Organizations

In addition to our Nonprofit Explorer interactive database, here are some resources for researching charities and other tax-exempt organizations.

A Super-Simple Tool to Search Instagram by Time and Location

This week, Justin Elliott wrote about new House Financial Services Committee chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) attending a weekend getaway with banking industry officials.

One of the ways he found out who was at the getaway was by using the Instagram photo sharing service, which turned up a snowy snapshot taken by Len Wolfson, a lobbyist for the Mortgage Bankers Association (which had contributed to Hensarling's PAC). Wolfson has since set his account to private.

The Instagram site has no search function, so finding shots like this can take a lot of digging. However, Instagram has an API with a "Media Search" endpoint that returns data both by timeframe and distance from a certain latitude and longitude -- a perfect way to see who's at a certain place at a certain time.

Tracking State Bills Takes a Village: The Legislature Tracker Gets Launched in N.Y.


The New York edition of the open source Legislature Tracker

Latest P5 Resident Working on Open Source Legislation Tracker


P5 resident Alan Palazzolo (Krista Kjellman Schmidt/ProPublica)

Our P5 Resident this month is Alan Palazzolo from MinnPost. He’s the fifth P5 Resident.

ProPublica Projects—and P5 Projects—Finalists for Data Journalism Awards


The Global Editors Network announced finalists for its 2013 Data Journalism Awards.

On the shortlist are three projects, including maps that retell the "Great Migration," from ProPublica and two projects from former residents in our P5 Program.

HeartSaver: Experimenting with News Games to Tell a Story


HeartSaver, ProPublica's entry into the April 2013 GEN hack day, lets players steer New York City heart attack victims to the closest hospitals.

This past weekend, a team from ProPublica competed in the GEN Editors’ Lab New York hack day, with the theme “Newsgaming.” We learned how to use game mechanics to create an interactive experience that went beyond badges and reputation systems to explore a complex accountability story in fun and engaging way. Seriously, our game is really fun.

Here’s what we learned (and produced!) in two days.


Play Our Experimental News Game: HeartSaver

HeartSaver is an experiment in news game design, built in two days for the April 2013 GEN Editors’ Lab Hackathon. How many lives can you save?


What Happened to the Gun Bill?

The Senate defeated several amendments to the proposed gun control bill, with only two amendments reaching the 60 votes necessary to pass. We break down how senators voted.


Where Congress Stands on Guns

Four months after the Newtown tragedy, the Senate resoundingly defeats gun control legislation. We break down how Senators voted on the bill.

Meet the New Blog (Same as the Old Blog)

Today we debut a ProPublica Nerd Blog redesign, which includes a new look for our main landing page as well as our article pages. We wanted to create both a better reading experience, as well as to help you find what you’re looking for more easily. Here are three new features we want to highlight:

First, we created a new sidebar to help you quickly locate our tools and guides, including ProPublica's latest News Apps and Data Guides. It’s powered by the Github API, so anything we open source will instantly be added there. We've also added a section called "Explore Our Work" that gives you another way to navigate through our stuff.

Second, we're cross-posting announcements all of our news apps and graphics here. This makes the Nerd Blog a one-stop shop for all of our projects and the technical posts we write about them. Look for the gold boxes for new apps.

Third, we added simple keyboard shortcuts to the landing page to help you navigate more quickly. You can press "j" to skip to the next blog post, and "k" to go back. Vim fans should be delighted.

We hope you like the new look, as well as our new "data bass" icon, drawn by Jason Das, and we welcome suggestions on how to make the nerd blog even better in the comment section -- now powered by Disqus -- below.


Five Drugs the FDA Doesn’t Want You to Know Relied on Tainted Data

ProPublica was able to pinpoint five drugs whose approval rested, at least in part, upon data from a now defunct firm with “egregious” research violations

Heart of Nerd Darkness: Why Updating Dollars for Docs Was So Difficult

Last week we published a big update to Dollars for Docs, our interactive news application of payments made to U.S. healthcare providers by 15 pharmaceutical companies. Compared to when we launched the project in 2010, the amount of data we’re collecting has grown enormously: The list of payments increased from around 750,000 to almost 2 million, and the grand total of the payments grew from around $750,000 to just under $2 billion.

Compiling the data for it has been an enormous project right from the beginning. After we published the first version, the original developer on the project, Dan Nguyen, compiled all of the things he had to learn into a guide to scraping data. This year’s update took more than eight months of full-time work by me, working with other news-app developers, and at times with our CAR team, a researcher, two editors and two health care reporters. It was a massive effort and presented huge technical and journalistic challenges.

No Windows. One Exit. Free Drinks: Casino-Driven Design for Crowdsourcing


Why do we call it casino-driven design? Casinos are notorious for adopting an interior design that keeps people gambling. (Flickr: vorticeassurdo)

During the 2012 election, we created Free the Files, an interactive news application based on crowdsourced data, built in real time by thousands of volunteers. It was a collaborative effort to track TV ad spending by campaigns, super PACs and so-called “dark money” nonprofit groups in the country’s top swing markets.

Measured by participation rate, Free the Files was an astonishing success. More than 1,000 contributors submitted over 94,000 transcriptions to help turn messy invoices from local TV networks into clean data. One volunteer transcribed over 28,000 filings. Each transcription was “verified” after two or more users agreed on all of its data points. There are currently around 17,000 verified filings, and people are still working.

ProPublica Honored with Best Map, Two Medals at Malofiej 21

On Friday, the Spanish chapter of the Society of News Design (SNDE) announced the winners of the 21st Malofiej International Infographics Awards. The jury evaluated over 1,000 entries from 28 countries.

This year, ProPublica was honored with the Miguel Urabayen Award for best map in the online category for StateFace, an open-source font we created. It’s made up of U.S. state shapes and is meant to be used as a design element in interactive web apps and graphics. The judges were impressed by StateFace’s versatility and its availability as a public service. Besides our own work, StateFace has been used by NPR, the Guardian, the Huffington Post and many others, especially in graphics and applications about the 2012 election. ProPublica also received a silver medal in the Innovative Format category for StateFace, and a bronze medal in Online Features/World and Nation for Housing Segregation: The Great Migration and Beyond by Jeff Larson and Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Between Human and Machine: Thoughts on Malofiej 21 Day 2

In one of the final sessions of the 21st Malofiej World Infographic Summit on Friday in Pamplona, Spain, Nigel Holmes noted the common theme of “hands” in the week’s presentations.

“We are humans, we are not attached to machines,” Holmes said as he presented a tongue-in-cheek look at “non-informational art” — fine art made by graphic journalists and artists when they weren’t making infographics.

As the conference was coming to a close, Holmes’ drawing attention to hands struck me as particularly insightful. One of the main undercurrents during the week was the tension between illustrative graphics, often borne out of photographs and sketches, and data visualization, whose raw material is often the very machine-based spreadsheet.

The News Apps Team

Hack With Us

ProPublica hosts newsroom developers -- or developers who want to see what it's like to work in news -- for 3-5 day job shadowing residencies called the ProPublica Pair Programming Project, or P5.

Download Our Data

Use ProPublica's data -- cleaned, categorized and often created from multiple sources -- in your reporting and research.

Use Our Code

Explore Our Work