Chris Neary is a producer for On the Media.
ProPublica's 'Message Machine' Project
Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 02:14 PM
A few weeks back we spoke with Justin Elliott, who highlighted ProPublica's Free the Files project. The idea there was to get ProPublica readers and journalism students to go to local TV stations and pick-up the station's 'public file,' which contains information about, among other things, who's buying political ads and for how much. The FCC recently ruled that some stations would have to put their files online. Not having those public files online and in a searchable, digital format is why the files had to be physically freed from stations in the first place. (Note: it turns out they may remain 'unfree' for a while meaning Free The Files remains an important project.)
This week, ProPublica is back with another project that incorporates crowd sourcing. "Message Machine" is an attempt to track the ways in which campaigns are tailoring email pitches to different groups of voters. ProPublica noticed many variations on the same email from the Obama campaign a few months ago and 'Message Machine' will build on that observation by collecting a lot of those emails from all campaigns to create 'a broad understanding in real time of the new and sophisticated ways modern campaigns are targeting voters.'
That's where you come in. ProPublica needs you to send them emails you get from campaigns to create the scale that could make this work. You email those emails to firstname.lastname@example.org
The project could end-up yielding an illuminating account of how the Obama campaign is trying to get your vote -- and there's also the chance to become a sort of adjunct reporter for a Pulitzer Prize-winning organization.
Related: Slate's Sasha Issenberg recently wrote a nice piece on the increasingly granular ways campaigns tailor messages to different voters.