With its new interactive news team, Politico wants to let sunshine into the Beltway

Andrew Restuccia wanted the answer to a simple question: Who was visiting the White House?

After doing some digging, the Politico senior policy reporter was able to show that CEOs in the auto, energy and airline industries were among some of President Trump's most influential guests. But when the White House announced in April that it would not publish a record of visitor logs, he decided something more should be done.

"I was actually surprised that other people hadn't done it already — partly because we see it as a resource not just for the Politico newsroom, but for newsrooms all over the country," Restuccia said.

The fruit of Restuccia's painstaking labor, "All the President's Guests," was published earlier this week. A public database of White House visitors that draws on more than 1,500 individual records, the project is the first of its kind for Politico and a prototypical example of what the newsroom hopes to accomplish with its burgeoning interactive news team.

By creating repositories of information about the government and making them public for everyone to see and download, Politico's interactive news team aims to team up with its reporters to let a little more sunlight into the corridors of the capital.

"That's a journalist's duty, to be as transparent as possible," Restuccia said. "We tried to take that rule and apply it to our own approach."

The interactive news team is led by Jon McClure, who was hired away from The Dallas Morning News, where he was data and news applications editor. McClure says he has several vacancies on the team, positions he's hoping to fill by the end of the year.

Although there are other, better-resourced interactive news teams out there, McClure says he thinks Politico's fledgling team can operate more nimbly than others and bring to bear the newsroom's vast trove of information to create informative interactives in the public interest.

"This is a canonical example of the type of work we like to do," McClure said. "Mostly because it benefits from our reporters' expertise, it's something we can do at scale and something we think is novel."

As of Wednesday, multiple news organizations and a few political gadflies had requested keys to Politico's applications program interface (API), the protocol used to download and share the data, McClure said.

That's in keeping with Politico's aim to work collaboratively with other news organizations that in years past they might've competed with, Restuccia said.

"It sounds sort of cliché, but we do see it as a public service, more broadly," he said. "We want to collaborate not just with our readers, but with other journalists. Who better to fill out this database than the people who cover Trump every day and have a front-row seat who he's meeting with?"

Thanks to his sleuthing and a little help, Restuccia now has the answer to his question. But he hasn't heard from the White House yet.

"I've been by the phone all the day waiting," he said with a laugh.

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    Benjamin Mullin

    Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism innovation, business practices and ethics.

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