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Introducing the ProPublica Reporting Network

Today we're launching the ProPublica Reporting Network. The Reporting Network will organize readers, guiding them to "commit acts of journalism," as it's put by Marc Cooper, my former colleague from our days running the citizen journalism site OffTheBus. Call it crowdsourcing. Call it collaborative reporting. I'd prefer not to debate semantics. Instead, let's talk about what the Reporting Network will do.

By collaborating directly with the public, we aim to deliver a greater range of information. E-mail, cell phones, instant messenger, and social networking sites such as Facebook are our tools. Questions that hold public figures and those in power accountable are our guides. I am both editor and organizer. Those who participate in our reporting initiatives -- that's you -- are Reporting Network members. Join today.

The first item on our menu: the stimulus.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is one of the largest spending bills in U.S. history. Not only is it a massive $787 billion sum, but the plan is to spend it in record time. The Obama administration says the stimulus will "jolt" our economy into recovery. The questions we must answer, as investigative journalists, are 1) is the stimulus working? and 2) is it being enacted responsibly -- without abuse of public trust?

We'll start by breaking down these questions into manageable pieces. Take, for example, the $27 billion to be spent on repairing roads and bridges. What exactly is getting repaired? Are we entrusting public money to the right companies? Are the companies that profit from the stimulus following environmental and labor laws? Are projects generating the jobs projected?

This is nitty-gritty work, hard-nosed investigative work that reveals surprising facts, but takes time and patience to do well. But it's essential if we want to answer whether the stimulus succeeded.

That's where our first assignment -- and you -- come in.

Our first project -- Adopt-a-Stimulus-Project -- asks readers to adopt a local road or bridge reconstruction project funded by the stimulus, and to monitor it. Diving headfirst into databases and wrangling answers out of government officials will get us only so far. Basic information about road and bridge reconstruction projects -- like the identity of sub-contractors -- requires feet on the ground, and a lot of them.

You may have already heard about this effort from WNYC, New York's top public radio station and one of our stimulus partners. We teamed up with it and the public radio program "The Takeaway" and have begun recruiting volunteers for the tri-state area.

In the process of working together, we'll take investigative journalism into a new collaborative sphere. Producing better coverage of the stimulus is one of our goals. Giving people more tools and an outlet to watchdog is another. Our editors and reporters will help shape your coverage, and guide our growing team. Soon we will also launch tools that make it easy to share information and network.

All of our work -- yours and ProPublica reporters' -- will be published under a Creative Commons license, meaning that any publication or blogger can reprint it in full.

With your help, the Reporting Network can watchdog the stimulus from the ground up. From bill to building. Join here.

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