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California Watch launches Politics Verbatim

One of the most gratifying things about California Watch is the speed at which we can embrace innovation. And then go for it.

Today, we’re unveiling a website built by our own Chase Davis called Politics Verbatim. This new site will attempt to track every quote, promise and statement made by our two major candidates for governor in California – Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman.

Check out the search tool that Davis created. It allows readers to sort candidate statements by nine different categories – including promises, attacks and vague policy points. If they dodge an issue or a subject, there’s a search category for that, too. Readers can also sort by geography to see where the candidates have been appearing – and what parts of the state they’ve been ignoring.

The site also will include blog posts from Davis, our Senior Editor Robert Salladay and Sacramento-based reporter Timothy Sandoval.

The candidates’ statements are sorted by 26 topics – from abortion to welfare.

We are unveiling Politics Verbatim today with about 300 documents and 1,000 excerpts. We will be adding to the site daily, scouring news and campaign sites and Twitter and Facebook feeds. We also are encouraging crowd-sourcing from other journalists and readers. We hope to soon create easy ways for readers to upload video and audio files from public campaign events. California is a massive state, and we can’t provide blanket coverage. But with help from others and from our media partners, we believe we can build a useful, relevant tool in a critical election year. We are hoping to explore additional partnerships with other media outlets to strengthen the content of Politics Verbatim.

Our overarching goal is to create a resource for voters and for those interested in policy. When Davis pitched Politics Verbatim a couple months back, he hoped the site would be a way to bring more accountability to the political process. By tracking the candidates' spoken words, we could hold their feet to the fire when they break promises or fail to live up to campaign pledges.  

We expect the site to evolve in the next few weeks. We’re treating today’s launch as Phase I. We are up and running and functional. We expect to roll out a second phase in the next month or so – a phase that will include easier ways to assess the positions of Brown and Whitman side-by-side. In that respect, Politics Verbatim will help serve as an interactive guide for undecided voters.

Ideally, we would track other candidates and races. And that will be the eventual goal – hopefully sooner rather than later. We'd like to add the U.S. Senate race and initiative campaigns, for instance. But that takes resources. So for now, we’re focusing on the race to become the next chief executive in the nation’s most dysfunctional state.

Politics Verbatim speaks to the advantages of a small newsroom. One reporter had an idea, made a pitch and it was green-lighted quickly. No mess. No fuss. We’ve been able to move fast to create this project because of the amazing talents of Davis and the lack of obstructions along the way.

I’ve worked in some terrific newsrooms where innovation was valued. But even in the most receptive large newsrooms, I’m betting a project such as Politics Verbatim would have been slowed by multiple rounds of memos, meetings and bureaucratic hurdles that might have sucked the momentum out of the idea.

Several other people deserve credit for today’s launch. Freelancer Coulter Jones and California Watch intern Austin Fast were instrumental in searching for campaign statements and materials to load onto our site. Our Senior Editor Salladay helped shape the project and multimedia producer Lisa Pickoff-White contributed to the look of Politics Verbatim. Davis, who is in his mid 20s, recruited his friends at Upstatement to design our logo and site layout. They did it at a steep discount. I’m told that Davis enticed them with some barbecue and a promise of a Terminator DVD.

You have got to love this generation of innovators.

Please let us know what you think. 

Filed under: Inside the Newsroom

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