Journalism in the Public Interest


The ProPublica Nerd Blog


How the NSA’s Claim on Thwarted Terrorist Plots Has Spread

In the months since revelations about NSA surveillance began, intelligence officials and members of Congress have claimed that the agency’s efforts have thwarted 54 terrorist attacks. But a review of official statements shows the NSA has been inconsistent about how many plots have actually been thwarted and what the role the spying programs played. Despite a lack of evidence, Congress and the media have rushed to repeat the most extreme version of the NSA’s claims.

Announcing the Nonprofit Explorer API

We launched our Nonprofit Explorer app in May, combining several IRS open data sets to create an easy-to-use tool for journalists and others who want to research nonprofit groups. Today we’re releasing an update to Nonprofit Explorer, with two new features: First, we now include data for organizations that reported finances on Form 990-PF. That means nearly 100,000 private foundations and charitable trusts are now included in the Nonprofit Explorer database.


How Much Acetaminophen Are You Taking?

Many common over-the-counter drugs contain acetaminophen. Taking more than one at the same time increases your chance of “double-dipping”—accidentally overdosing.

Technical Difficulties on iPhone and iPad App

Update 9/25 Apple's approved our fixed version of the app and they're now available in the App Store.

Is the U.S. Government Behind “Torsploit”?


Is an exploit targeting Tor users sending identifying information to a server owned by the U.S. Government? (Image: Flickr)

There’s a lot of chatter on the Internet about a Firefox security vulnerability that has been used to target users of the Tor Browser Bundle, the most commonly-used way to use the Tor anonymity network. Malware that took advantage of this vulnerability was recently discovered on several prominent “hidden services” — websites accessible only through a secure, anonymous Tor connection. The exploit has been given two nicknames: “Magneto,” a phrase that appears inside the exploit’s JavaScript code (a commonly-used method to name viruses and exploits) and “Torsploit,” a portmanteau of “Tor” and “exploit.”

Why You Should Be our 2014 OpenNews Fellow (and Join the Epic Team of Awesome)

For the second year, the ProPublica News Applications desk has a unique opening for a ten-month-long fellowship as part of the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews program. The OpenNews fellow sits with us in our newsroom and works on everything our full-time news apps developers do, from daily graphics to larger apps and open source projects.

Where Do “Good” Software Practices Fit Into News Applications


How should we think about "good" software practices in the newsroom? (Image: Flickr)

When building news apps, good software practices don't go out the window; but something else becomes more important — the content and the story.


Has the Gov’t Lied on Snooping? Let’s Go to the Videotape

Since Edward Snowden leaked documents detailing the NSA’s surveillance programs, the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged that part of his congressional testimony was “erroneous.” But that’s not the only questionable comment by administration officials.

Upton: A Web Scraping Framework


Today we're announcing a new open-source project that aims to make web scraping simpler. It's named Upton, after labor journalist Upton Sinclair, because the project started as part of our intern investigation.

Upton is a web-scraping framework packaged as a RubyGem. It abstracts away some of the common parts of web scraping so that developers can concentrate on the unique parts of their project.


NSA Surveillance Lawsuit Tracker

The recent disclosure of sweeping surveillance by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has prompted a new wave of legal challenges to the U.S. government’s intelligence-gathering programs.

Transcribable: Free the Files to Go!

Today we’re releasing a new open source project, which will enable any organization with a DocumentCloud account to do crowdsourcing using documents.

Since we wrapped up our Free the Files project after last year’s U.S. election, many people and organizations have asked us how they could build their own web applications like Free the Files to crowdsource their caches of documents. The full Free the Files codebase is undocumented, a bit messy and isn’t easy to deploy in environments other than our own, so we decided to extract the salient bits into a Rails plugin we’re calling Transcribable.

Creating Games for Journalism


We as journalists can learn a lot from video games. They can help players explore unfamiliar worlds and experience stories, almost literally, through the eyes of another person. Designed well, video games guide players to feel emotion and conflict, as well as learn the intricacies of complex subjects and systems. They engage users in a highly meaningful, memorable and influential way.

But video games don't require an expensive console system or high-end computer. They can be powered up on our smartphones and on Facebook, and many people who would never call themselves gamers are playing games and getting familiar with how the medium works. And it's not all just escapist fun — there's a community dedicated to exploring how games can be used in education.

As journalists, games can be a great tool for us to use to reach, inform and engage our readers.


Timeline: America’s Long Civil Rights March

ProPublica has created a timeline to appreciate the key moments and often differing aims of the government’s judicial and legislative branches in the ongoing clash over civil rights.


Tracking Intern Lawsuits

The complaints against Condé Nast, Warner Music and Gawker Media are the latest in a rising tide of lawsuits brought by unpaid interns, many of which are still in progress.

P5 Resident Aram Chung


ProPublica news app developer Al Shaw walks P5 resident Aram Chung through the Free the Files project. (Krista Kjellman Schmidt/ProPublica)

This week’s P5 Resident is Aram Chung.

Aram is currently a dual master’s degree candidate at Columbia University’s joint journalism and computer science program. Aram, who is from Seoul, South Korea, graduated with a degree in mathematical sciences with a minor in industrial design at KAIST in Daejeon, South Korea, where she was also a reporter and editor at the KAIST Herald, the English-language campus monthly newspaper.

Four Games that Tackle Serious Issues


Four examples of how news organizations might use games to help people understand — and act on — serious issues.

Every day I was at the three-day Games For Change conference this week, I learned about new and innovative games built to suit the needs of education and social change. I could have written about almost all of them, but here are four that are especially noteworthy to those of us thinking about building games for news.

Simulations Let Readers Experience Stories for Themselves


In 1979, a game by iNK Stories on the 1979 Iranian Revolution, a character looks on as a riot occurs below. Screenshot taken from the game's video trailer.

Cameras were not present to capture Tiger Woods pulling out of his driving and hitting a fire hydrant, then a tree in 2009, nor to see his wife smash a car window with a golf club and drag Woods out of the vehicle. So to simulate the events of the story, a Taiwanese news service called Next Media Animation created an animated video of the ordeal, complete with shattering glass.

Since then, the company has produced similar videos based on celebrity news and even breaking news. At the time, I thought that these videos might actually catch on, and simulated reality would fill in the gaps when we couldn’t get real video footage. But they didn’t, at least not in the United States.

Yesterday at the Games For Change Festival’s day-two demo session, I saw a game in progress that took animated scenarios to a new level, and it really opened up some ideas for journalism.

What News Nerds Can Learn from Game Nerds, Day One


Ian Bogost, during his gaming thought leader session for day one of the Games For Change Festival on June 17, 2013. (Sisi Wei/ProPublica)

Today was the first day of the 10th Games for Change Festival, a conference in New York organized by Games for Change, an organization that seeks to create games with a positive social impact.

If you think about it, positive social impact is a goal that’s similar to ours as journalists. Naturally, as I listened to the diversity of presentations today dedicated to social reach, education, impact and even fighting censorship, I found many lessons that apply to what we’re doing in newsrooms.


New Maps and a New Plan for New York

FEMA’s released new, preliminary flood insurance maps for New York City, which specify how likely areas are to flood. The new maps, which replace maps that used data from 1983, double the number of structures in flood zones.


Mass Surveillance in America: A Timeline of Loosening Laws and Practices

The evolution of the National Security Agency’s dragnet under Presidents Bush and Obama. 

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