These political Web tools get my vote

This very long presidential campaign has been most exciting for me, as a journalist, in seeing how new Web tools and sites devoted to politics, fact-checking, instant communication and social media have dramatically transformed how Americans and others around the world get their election news.

There is plenty of muttering that this may be the final campaign in which the mainstream media has anything like a major role to play. And that the future of journalism, much less political journalism, is bound to be more opinionated with the further onslaught of blogs, cable news, constant polls and the punditry that feeds them. And even as one of the rising new stars of this future openly wonders whether having such an occupation in this field is “worthwhile.”

Those are topics for another time, after the election. Unless, of course, the bloviators, numbers-crunchers and talking heads are all colossally wrong about who will prevail.

I’ve been more interested in the varied and dynamic new tools that have been unveiled and employed to help tell the story of the campaign. What follows are some sites, tools and other features that have been especially useful and intriguing:

• 5) Interactive map of newspaper endorsements: Critics who complain of liberal media bias or believe endorsements don’t matter probably won’t be impressed, but this is a very good use of one of my favorite Web tools — the mashup map. Here’s a good electoral map from Yahoo!, using polling information from the Real Clear Politics polling averages. This site’s a holdover from 2004, and goes into depth on competitive House and Senate races.

• 4) PolitiFact.com: Want to check the veracity of claims in political ads, videos and literature put out by the campaigns? This joint project of the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly ferrets out facts from the fiction, and along with factcheck.org has been oft-cited in news coverage of the election. The most egregious violators get the Pants on Fire! designation.

• 3) Sunlight Foundation: This pro-government transparency outfit is a treasure trove for information on campaign contributions, earmarks, voting records and other details of what politicians do not just to get to Washington, but what happens once they get there. Tracks the presidential race and Congress, as well as the distribution of federal contract dollars. I really love the Congresspedia project, which is one the best one-stop shopping sources on Congress I’ve ever seen. Designed for both media and citizen use, you can sign up for an API key to create a customized tool for your blog or site.

• 2) FiveThirtyEight.com: What happens when a baseball stats freak takes his math to the electoral map? You get this magnificently obsessed collection of numbers that defy the imagination of non-geeks like me. But young Nate Silver has generated plenty of media attention about his methods and generates massive amounts of comments on his site.

• 1) Twitter: Forget the victor between Obama and McCain; this instant social-messaging site might be the biggest winner of this campaign season. All kinds of mainstream news organizations are getting the hang of the 140-character form, and the two-year-old startup has been rocking with a running stream of posts devoted to the campaign. You can also check out political sub-topics from there. A Twitter stream has been set up to report on what’s happening at your polling place, especially if there are problems with long lines, broken machines, etc. Current TV, established by former Vice President Al Gore, has set up an election night service joining the forces of Twitter and Digg. No matter how you use it, Twitter isn’t just for geeks anymore.

But these are just my favorites. Here are some more election day resources on the Web. Which ones are your favorites?

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One thought on “These political Web tools get my vote

  1. Thanks for the kind words about the Sunlight Foundation and our projects.

    Also check out Open Congress (http://www.opencongress.org/) for voting records and Party Time (http://politicalpartytime.org/) for fundraising parties to see who is giving money to your representatives.

    With the projects you’ve mentioned and others, like GovTrak.us, citizens can keep tabs on their representatives and keep them accountable as well as make them better lawmakers.

    THanks

    Nisha Thompson
    nthompson(at)sunlightfoundation(dot)com
    Sunlight Foundation

    Like

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