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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Helping readers become watchdogs

The Sunlight Foundation hopes to use reader-driven grassroots reporting to help uncover news from the U.S. federal government.
Posted: 2006-05-25
Just as news organizations can harness the power of grassroots journalism to extend their newsroom's reporting capabilities, interest groups, corporations and watchdog groups can use distributed reader-driven reporting networks to gather and publish news online, as well.

Ellen Miller is the executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based watchdog group that's using grassroots reporting techniques to cover the U.S. Federal government. She spoke by phone with OJR about the foundation and the promise of citizen reporting.

OJR: Tell me about the Sunlight Foundation, and what you're set up to do.

Miller: The Sunlight Foundation was created out of the desire to stimulate more investigative attention to what goes on in Congress, by both citizens, bloggers, and journalists. With the idea of making more resources more easily available. And stimulating a kind of environment where looking into what members of Congress are doing on a daily basis becomes sort of a norm. To that end, we've created a number of interactive projects for, particularly, citizens. One is a Congresspedia, where people are invited to contribute to a Web-based, wiki encyclopedia online. We've created online tutorials for people about the issue of money and politics. And we're doing some distributed reporting, where we ask citizens to go out and report back to us what members are doing – for example, on earmarks. We've also given a number of grants, to organizations to digitize information, which should be digitized by members of Congress, but is not, lie personal financial disclosure information, information about lobbyists -- what lobbyists file, who's lobbying whom and how much they're spending on it all. And so those are just a few projects.

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