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How We Made Our Illinois Governor’s Campaign Finance Widget

It's the first of many experiments to reach our audience with useful, data-driven visual journalism.

This story was first published in ProPublica Illinois’ weekly newsletter. Sign up for that here.

Hi! I’m David Eads, news apps developer at ProPublica Illinois. I want to tell you about a widget we released last week that tracks fundraising in the Illinois governor’s race.

The idea for the widget came from my previous life at NPR, where we embedded data graphics on sites across the public radio network. This worked very well for national stories, and I believe the technique has even more potential at the state and local level. News organizations, especially smaller outlets, can’t compete on data plumbing and they often lack compelling visuals to go along with important reporting. We know that stories with strong data graphics and visuals are more likely to be seen, to be read to the end and to be shared by readers. By sharing these kinds of resources, we can make all the great reporting happening around Illinois more compelling.


The software I wrote grabs the latest fundraising data from the Illinois State Board of Elections every day. Then it downloads the data, processes it and dumps it into a database. It is then processed again into a simplified format that the widget uses. Finally, the widget gets updated with the latest information.

Anyone can include the widget on their website to display the latest fundraising figures. (If you’re interested, here’s how to do that.) It’s the first of what we hope will be many experiments to reach our audience by complementing reporting with useful, data-driven visual journalism.

And the widget is a living project. We plan to enhance it in the coming weeks by adding data on candidate self-funding and tracking how much spending has gone toward supporting candidates’ parties versus their own campaigns.

We also know that not everyone interested in the widget has a website, so we’re developing the ability to automatically generate images that can be shared on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, too. In fact, we have a jump start on that, thanks to the work of reader Jim Kang, an engineer at Spotify.

Kang saw news about the widget on Twitter and shared code with us that will help generate images. He said he did so to “help out with public civic information in any way.”

Learn more about how to use the widget and, if you have questions or ideas how to improve it, email me at [email protected]. And also, let me know if you do end up using the widget or embedding it on your own site. We’d like to keep track of all the places it ends up.

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David Eads

David Eads is a former news applications developer at ProPublica Illinois, where he combined journalism with software development.

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