This past week, the Washington Post unveiled an API, or Application Programming Interface, for accessing Washington-centric information such speech transcripts, issue information and campaign finance data. An API is a toolkit that allows any developer to leverage data produced by the Washington Post in his or her own program, such as an app or website. This API, once for internal use only at the newspaper, powers tools such as the Campaign Finance Explorer and the White House Visitors Log.
While the Washington Post is not the first media outlet to open up its data using an API – The New York Times and NPR, among others, have done this already – it is big news for DC. In its initial public release, the developers at the newspaper expose API functions for campaign finance data released from the FEC, issue public figure summaries, transcripts and statements, their own fact-check scores on statements made by public figures and the White House visitor log. Much of the documentation provided by the Washington Post points to future releases, deeper datasets powering the APIs and even more API calls to further explore the data.
It is exciting to watch more and more newspapers release their data to the public via APIs. Of interesting note is how the Washington Post describes itself on their API’s about page as a “news and information company” and not just a newspaper. With the rise in popularity of public data APIs thanks to initiatives such as Data.gov and Challange.gov, I suspect we will see only more similar APIs sprouting up throughout the journalism world. While publishing free APIs still does not solve the ever-growing business challenges facing newspapers, these public data services are of a huge benefit to Washington DC organizations as they provide awesome sources of real, quantifiable data that can be used to raise public awareness on issues in interactive and engaging ways.
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