Journalism in the Public Interest

The ProPublica Nerd Blog

Welcome to the Nerd Blog


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Today we are introducing our Nerd Blog, a place to talk about what programmer-journalists at ProPublica are working on, announce newly-launched news applications, and to hear from technically-minded readers, as well as our fellow nerdy journalists. We’re going to be writing about each of our projects as we release them, and flagging open source tools we’ve found useful.

So what the heck is a “news application”? It’s an interactive web page that uses software instead of words and pictures to do journalism.

Our team of programmer-journalists makes interactive applications based on data both culled from public sources and collected by ProPublica’s investigative reporters. Some of our work is published alongside stories. Other projects are themselves the main product of an investigation. (See highlights of our work.)

An increasing number of news outlets are building teams like ours, which are integrated into the newsroom and editorial process. This blog is meant to be ProPublica’s contribution to the growing conversation around news applications (which is also sometimes called “interactive news,” and “computational journalism”).

As a group, we’re always learning about how to do news applications projects, and how not to. Here’s what is playing inside our heads while we’re planning a news app:

  • We tend not to simply put pretty interfaces around publicly available data, but instead analyze the data, clean it up, and mash it together with other data to help tease out trends and outliers. Our Recovery Tracker tracks stimulus spending in thousands of counties in the U.S. It predates, and covers more data, than the government’s own
  • We use comparisons to build narratives: For example, our Unemployment Insurance Tracker exposes how skyrocketing unemployment, and in some cases poor planning, have left some states’ unemployment insurance trust funds facing insolvency – while other states have relatively healthy programs.
  • Our projects should also help readers find what’s relevant to them and their communities: How does my county compare to the next county when it comes to stimulus revenue? How does my mortgage servicer compare to others when it comes to completing loan modifications for underwater homeowners?

At ProPublica, we believe in sharing. That’s why our team releases much of our software code as open source, free for anybody to take or modify. (A list of our latest open source projects are on the right of this page, and can be found in our github repository.) We also make our data sets available to other news organizations and publish recipes, detailing how others can follow-up on our investigations. Our Recovery Tracker has been used as a data source in over 100 local stories about stimulus funding.

If you’ve used our data or our open source software to build something cool, please let me know and we’ll highlight it here. And if you want to be notified whenever we publish a news app, sign up for our data list in the right-hand column of this page.

Fredrik Bergljung

Sep. 8, 2010, 12:59 p.m.

Hello, world!

Hi; do you guys have an RSS feed for this blog? It seems to be blank at the moment.


Feedburner seems to be having trouble picking up the feed for this blog, we’re working on it. In the meantime, point your RSS reader to:

And once feedburner catches up, you’ll get our posts.

Ron Mwangaguhunga

Sep. 8, 2010, 2:23 p.m.

I thank the Geek Gods for this site!

You people are doing some great work. As a writer of politics and current events, journalism died in the late 80s/early 90s. But at least you folks provide a glimmer of hope for its resurrection.

Congratulations Propublica Nerds! Looking forward to following you.

Aron Pilhofer

Sep. 8, 2010, 5:35 p.m.

Congrats you guys! Looking forward to seeing more!

Count me in!  Looking forward to tracking what goes on here.

Someone once observed that the reason golf on TV is popular is that because so many people play golf badly they are fascinated to see it played well.

As someone who has worked for a year writing an original platform for journalism, I feel a bit the same about this blog.

Very cool. I look forward to reading it.

Ashley Schofield

Sep. 8, 2010, 11:11 p.m.

I love this! As a former aspiring journalist heralding from the newspaper realm with a M.A. in Newspaper, Magazine, and Online journalism, emphasis in New Media from the S.I. Newhouse of Public Communications turned web designer for a tech company and aspiring digital media strategist/interactive online director pursuing a M.S. in Information Management from the Information Studies school at Syracuse University, this blog is right up my alley! Can’t wait to read and hopefully contribute through some form of interaction!

I’m eager to see what you have to say.

Geeks of the journalism world, unite! The only thing we have to lose is, uh, our jobs. (But in that respect we’re like every other journalist.)

News nerds are scattered: except for big newsrooms there are usually only a few in any one location. This is a good scheme to bring them together to share best practices. Thanks.

Very nice to see!  I look forward to plenty of nerdy entries…

Phillip Smith

Sep. 9, 2010, 1:45 p.m.

I’ll be looking you up to help out with the next “Open Journalism on the Open Web” course—you’ve been warned.  ;-) 


Julian Burgess

Sep. 9, 2010, 2:13 p.m.

Great work. I love these behind the scenes blogs, gives great insight as to where technology is moving and what things are working well.

Jeanne Brooks

Sep. 9, 2010, 2:56 p.m.

This is so awesome! I’m very excited to add this to my regular reads. Also, Nerd Blog could not be named more perfectly.

David Brunelle

Sep. 9, 2010, 3:51 p.m.

Was this “inspired” by PubliCola’s Nerds? PubliCola has had “Nerds” writing for them for quite some time. PubliCola Nerds vs. ProPublica Nerds.

There should be a cage match.

Barbara Selvin

Sep. 10, 2010, 8:15 a.m.

I’m a digital immigrant and will always speak with a heavy analog accent, so this blog will be way over my head—but I know enough to know an exciting idea when I see one.
Love the comments.

Links from your RSS feed are busted. Trying not to chuckle at the irony ;)


Thanks for the heads up, fixing it now.

Ok, the feed links are fixed now.

What about an android app?  You know you can gather info from droids as well as present to them.  Huffpo has an app but I bet you guys could do better by using user info/feedback for statistical analysis. 

P.s. this message sent by droid ;-)

You had me at “What We Code In but Pretend We Don’t: PHP.” With such honesty, how can I not follow you? I look forward to communing with my fellow nerd journalists, as scattered as we all are.


Nice! I’ll be following along via RSS. Looking forward to your work.

Stimulus speed app not working for me on firefox


Thanks for the heads up. We recently upgraded our core version of underscore:

and the method signature for _.reduce changed which broke the chart. It’s fixed now.

Maura Youngman

Sep. 17, 2010, 2:46 p.m.

A hub for nerd journalists and their work. This looks fun.

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