Journalism in the Public Interest

The ProPublica Nerd Blog

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. 

Joanna Kao, P5 Resident


P5 resident Joanna Kao (Krista Kjellman Schmidt/ProPublica)

The sixth ProPublica P5 Resident is Joanna Kao.

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.

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