The Obama-meter

While a lot of the coverage of the new American administration is pretty similar between various media organizations, publications, and websites, there are a few projects that seem new and different. One such, the likes of which I’d not seen before, is the St. Petersburg Times’ Obama-Meter. A small army of staffers have sliced and diced all of the campaign promises, arguments, and factoids spit out by the Obama administration and other prominent government officials, and rendered them in easy to understand, but well-cited, snippets which are then judged on truth and follow-through. As of this writing, 5 of about 500 campaign promises have been kept, 14 are currently in the works, 1 has ended in compromise, 1 has been stalled, and none have been broken. Here’s the paper’s explanation of how the whole thing works. The Truth-o-Meter is a similar project, with 41 pages of American politicians’ statements rated for truth and accuracy, ranging from pants-on-fire style “felony cherry picking” on the part of a Republican Party of Florida anti-Obama mailer to the truth of McCain’s statement that “Obama’s no maverick”.

This seems like a perfect marriage between the internet audience’s demand for quick facts and newspaper journalism’s ability to leverage a large staff’s investigative wherewithal and institutional memory. What’s more, it’s great to see a newspaper stepping up as a political watchdog in such an accessible, easy-to-digest, and generally factual way. This is a welcome change to the past decade or so of punditry’s stranglehold on American political discourse. In my mind, the media should always occupy an adversarial role in political affairs, regardless of whether or not the politicians in question are generally liked or disliked. This role might even be more important with an overwhelming popular administration, in that positive media and public opinion might serve as distraction from pernicious political maneuvering going on behind the scenes, such as was the case directly after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

While we’re at it, New York magazine recently published an interesting behind-the-scenes feature on what goes into making some of the New York Times innovative web packages. Slashdot’s mention of that article also clued me in to a former New York Times staffer’s discussion of his work with the paper’s Cybertimes group in the mid-90s. All of this is especially interesting in light of Michael Hirschorn’s speculation in the Atlantic Monthly that the New York Times might cease operations as early as May 2009.

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