Want to know what’s really going on? Read the documents behind the news. Journalists strive to summarize complex documents, but sometimes its nice to read source material in its entirety. Thanks to DocumentCloud, an web service partnered with various media organizations, now you can. Whether you’re a blogger looking for information others missed or just an enthusiastic follower of a particular story, DocumentCloud is a site you should bookmark.
Everyone’s heard of WikiLeaks; most have heard of its recent spinoff OpenLeaks. DocumentCloud isn’t aiming to compete with the likes of these organizations, who give leaked documents to the press and then to the masses. Instead DocumentCloud aims to give media organizations a place to submit their own news documents source material for the public to view it. It’s a supplement to what you get from the newspaper or television, not an alternative to it.
With partnerships with a fast-growing number of news organizations, you’ll find a wide variety of news documents worth browsing.
Head to DocumentCloud’s public search page to get started. You’ll find the interface easy to use, but let’s go over it briefly.
To get started, you can type search terms. For example:
There are a lot of documents here, so be sure to search for something that interests you.
Not sure if you want to search? You can browse by media source; the panel on the left lists them. Or, if you prefer, you can check out a list of entities mentioned in a lot of documents:
This list includes people, organizations, cities and even phone numbers mentioned in documents. It’s a quick way to find interesting documents, if you’re just browsing.
Once you’ve found a document you like, you can open it by clicking the globe icon beside it. This will direct you to the document itself, on the website of the organization that shared the document. Shared documents look like this:
Yes, some of these are heavily redacted (though not quite as much as this document, which outlines the murder of rapper Biggie Smalls). That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of information in them, or that they couldn’t be a great read.
DocumentCloud is unique in that it allows media organizations to partner with it. Current partners are listed here, and include a lot of big names in North American journalism. As the project expands I’m sure the list will become more international.
Want to become a source yourself? Unlike WikiLeaks, the process isn’t anonymous. Indeed, you need to represent a media organization, upload your documents on behalf of that organization and have approval from your editor before you can proceed. Find out more at DocumentCloud’s contact page.
The web increases access to information; this site is an example of that. Unlike WikiLeaks however, DocumentCloud works with media outlets directly. Traditional media organizations, despite predictions to the contrary, aren’t going away anytime soon. They do the heavy lifting that makes good reporting possible, and sharing information with the masses only increases their relevance. Due to this, I think DocumentCloud is a great service for news outlets and consumers of news alike.
Bloggers get access to information; traditional media outlets get an opportunity to show off the value of their investigations. Everyone wins in my opinion.
What do you think? As always, you have a chance to share your views in the comments below. Also feel free to link to any particularly interesting documents.