Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tribune becomes first Montana newspaper to employ DocumentCloud technology

document cloud snip
I wrote in the Great Falls Tribune today about about how high level officials at the U.S. Department of the Interior were involved lengthy discussions surrounding possible new national monument designations for Montana and other western states.
Interior officials, including Secretary Ken Salazar, continue to say that talk of a new national monument in Montana is nothing more than “false rumors,” but as 383 pages of Interior e-mails show, there’s more to the story than mere “rumors.”
In reporting this story I utilized a new tool I learned about at last month’s Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Las Vegas.
You can see that new tool in action on the Tribune’s website.
Here are the 383 pages of e-mails.
Here is the leaked memo.
DocumentCloud allows journalists to upload massive amounts of digital documents into a simple, easy to navigate “workspace,” and then share those documents with readers.
While the digital age and the Internet have certainly made things a lot easier for investigative reporters in some respects, there are some downsides to technology, especially when it comes to obtaining and reviewing documents.
For instance, many documents that are made available in digital format are not searchable. Such was the case with the 383 pages of e-mails released by the Interior Department. They were scanned print-outs of the original e-mails.
That’s where Document Cloud comes in handy. Once the hudreds of pages e-mails were uploaded to DocumentCloud, built-in software went to work scanning non-searchable documents for text. Documents that were nothing more than a series of images are now translated into recognizable and searchable text.
DocumentCloud also allows users to make annotations right in the document. In the past I would print an entire .pdf document just so I could highlight passages and make notes in the margins. DocumentCloud lets me do that digitally. I can search, highlight and annotate documents all in one easy to use online program.
The best part is that when I’m ready to publish my story, I can share that document, including my annotations, with the reading public.
In the past, newspapers would sometimes include a link to a downloadable version of a document referenced in a story. But as most of you know, some documents can be huge. The document containing the 383 pages of e-mails referenced in today’s story was somewhere on the order of 9.5 MB and would take a long time to download for many readers. But with DocumentCloud, we can share the document with our readers in an easy-to-use, searchable viewer that requires no downloading. In addition, the annotation feature allows us to point out especially relevant or important parts of the documents and specific passages referenced in the story.
This is the Tribune’s first run with DocumentCloud, but you should expect to see it more and more in the future. The program is still in the beta testing stages, so if you have any comments or suggestions on how the software might better serve readers, send me your comments and I’ll pass them along.
Do you have suggestions for documents journalists ought to be reviewing? Do you have access to newsworthy documents yourself? If so, drop me a note.
I’ll be out of the office until July 14, so the lowdown might be dark for a while.

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