They Can Run, But They Can’t Hide

Government agencies beware. A new open source tool is allowing journalists and citizens to see what’s happening in Washington around the clock.

The new tool, called ChangeTracker, lets users monitor changes made to government websites, such as the WhiteHouse.gov, Recovery.gov and the FinancialStability.gov. ChangeTracker is extremely accurate, showing users exactly what was removed, edited or updated on the sites. It also shows side-by-side comparisons of the website before and after the changes were made.

Scary, huh? Well, maybe for people like the President. Let’s say, for instance, the Obama administration decides to alter the language on a proposal or backtrack on a claim. As soon as this happens, the users of ChangeTracker will immediately see what changed. Cellphones and computers will immediately light up with notifications since users can receive updates a variety of ways – via RSS, Twitter (by following @changetracker), daily email or directly on the ChangeTracker Web page.

It’s almost like having a twenty-four seven security watch on the White House. For ProPublica, this is a great asset for their investigative reporting,

According to Scott Klein, ProPublica’s director of online development, “ChangeTracker will help us keep an eye on the administration’s transparency pledges, and will help reporters, bloggers, government watchdogs and everyday citizens keep watch over the Web sites of their elected officials.”

That being said, ChangeTracker can truly help ProPublica fulfill their mission – to hold officials in prominent positions accountable. But, ProPublica is not the only one taking advantage of this tool. ChangeTracker’s open source software allows anyone to use it on any website they choose.

According to Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica’s managing editor, ProPublica is proud to share this tool with other media organizations. “This is a tool that local news organizations can use to follow the government officials they report on,” Engelberg said. “Any city, state or federal reporter can adapt ChangeTracker to their needs.”

ChangeTracker is just one example of an open source tool. Open source tools are increasingly becoming great sidekicks for journalist. There are countless open source tools out there, journalists just need to learn know how to use them to their advantage.

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