COOL TOOL: Poligraft Helps Journos Sniff out Slanted Sources

June 13, 2012

In the arena of environmental and energy news, things are seldom what they seem. Whether the news involves a government regulatory action or a science report, many willing to talk about it have a vested interest or a partisan slant. Too often, journalists have to be mere stenographers because publications push them to do several stories a day on subjects they know little about.

Help is on the way: a cool new tool called "Poligraft." Just paste in some text or the Web address of an online article, and within seconds Poligraft supplies much of the missing context.

The mere mention of a Senator, for example, elicits a rundown on who his or her top campaign contributors are and which industries give the most. A lobbyist's name invokes a rundown on which politicians he/she gives money to. Names of organizations are annotated with contributions they've made.

The Poligraft system was developed by the Sunlight Foundation (which has a back room full of talented coders), the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and the Center for Responsive Politics.

It can save reporters hours of work — but it is not perfect yet. While it does well with political money, it is less adept in the murkier worlds of think tanks, paid pundits, issue groups, and "experts."