Who’s buying political ads on TV? Help us, and ProPublica, find out and make the info public

A post on Bill Moyers & Company titled “FCC chair blasts broadcasters as being against transparency and journalism” sounded interesting enough, and then when I checked it out, I said: Hey, we know something about that.

The post reports on the National Association of Broadcasters opposing a measure that would make TV stations post online who’s buying political ads. The post pointed out that the info is public, but many stations say they don’t want to voluntarily put it out there.

ProPublica, a nonprofit online investigative journalism organization, has undertaken a project to get that information to the public as a measure of transparency, to allow people greater oversight of political campaigns’ spending. And there’s a specific effort under way in Pennsylvania. 

We’re part of that effort — and you can be, too. Last week, reporter Ed Mahon visited each station in the York market to get copies of political-ad contracts that are public record. As part of the ProPublica project, we’re putting those online via DocumentCloud  (search for  ”PA York.”)

As ProPublica reviews those and other documents for big-picture and/or national-scope stories, we’ll be looking at them for local story ideas.

About the you-can-help part: ProPublica hopes news organizations and residents can make  regular checks to get updated documents as the political campaign season stretches past the primary and into summer and fall. From Daniel Victor at ProPublica:

 We need volunteers from each big TV market in Pennsylvania (see the table below) to visit the stations, make copies of the paper files, then scan and email them to us. We’ll help organize and post the disclosure documents on the web.

We still need volunteers to visit the stations during business hours. It takes about 15 to 30 minutes at the station, plus however long it takes to scan and email the files.

If you’re willing to spend some time doing this, leave a comment here, e-mail me at sblanchard at ydr.com, or call me at 771-2099; or e-mail Daniel Victor at daniel.victor at propublica.org.

A couple notes: From Ed’s experience, it might take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the station; and he was charged for copies, so that’s a consideration. But the YDR and ProPublica would love any help we can get on this.

About Scott Blanchard

Sunday editor at the York (Pa.) Daily Record/Sunday News. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.
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