Knight Center
Knight Center

JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Obama OK’s new open data rules for more accessible public information



President Barack Obama took some heat from media critics earlier this spring when he declared that his administration was the “most transparent" in history but an announcement today takes him one step closer to making good on that boast. On Thursday, May 9, the White House announced an Executive Order requiring that all new data generated by the United States government be made available in open, machine-readable formats, declaring, “Information is a valuable national asset whose value is multiplied when it is made easily accessible to the public.”

While the press release framed the decision as a boon for entrepreneurs and the private sector, machine-readable data has been a goal of data journalists for years now. Machine-readable data often means information presented in an open source format (CSV tables) or its original form (an Excel sheet, for example) and not as PDFs, which are difficult to scan for the information journalists want, especially in large quantities. Last week, the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas spoke with several data journalists about the tools they use to get around this problem.

The U.S. government data will range from energy, education, public safety, finance, and global development, and health. This week, several news organizations took advantage of open data released by the government’s Health Data Initiative to report on huge disparities in what hospitals across the U.S. charge Medicare for routine procedures.

The press release also noted that the government re-launched an updated Data.gov, a website for government data with visualization and links to information from other countries with open data access, including many in Latin America. There are also new tools available, including one that automatically converts simple spreadsheets and data sets into Application Programming Interface (API) access for developers as part of Project Open Data.

Brazil already requires government agencies to release information in machine-readable formats. The White House website added that information provided in open formats would still follow rules to safeguard privacy, confidentiality, and security.



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