Calling all ad sleuths: Get happy; get data; get empowered


Wondering who’s flooding your living rooms with non-stop streams of negativity? Selling your would-be elected representatives like so many bars of soap?

Trying to brainwash (or, given the tone of most ads, maybe the operative verb be brainslime) you into submission?

Now’s your chance to find out.

For Sunlight and some of our partners in effort to find out who’s behind 2012’s blitz of political advertising, this is crunch time. We’re on an ambitious quest to put information in thousands of ad filings at the Federal Communications Commission into a searchable, sortable format so that researchers,journalists and average Americans can begin to figure out who is behind this year’s extraordinary barrage of propaganda and how much they’re paying.

This is information all Americans will want to know next year when the chits are called in. And we can’t succeed in unearthing it without your help.

So on Thursday, Sunlight we’ll be sponsoring a data happy hour to introduce users to our Political Ad Sleuth database — how to read the files that you find there and how to enter the data into a format that will make it easier for us to search and provide computations on ad spending.Map of Sunlight Foundation location

We’ll be providing food and drink for the body and mind beginning at 5 p.m. in Sunlight’s offices, just south of Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. More details here. And Boston Sunlight Meetup will be hosting data-busters as well (details here). Our partners at Free Press will be doing the same at their offices in western Massachusetts. More details on that event here.

Don’t live in DC or the Bay State? You can still join the fun. We’ll be livestreaming the event on our interactive video tool, Sunlight Live, where you can post questions, chat with us and we can show you some of the records you’ll be wrangling while you virtually join the party. Maybe you want to organize your own group where ever you live and join us online.

There’s a lot of work to be done, but happily there are a lot of smart, dedicated people already doing it. We’re coordinating our efforts with Pro Publica’s Free the Files so that together, we can divide and conquer this mountain of data. On Monday, one of Pro Publica’s partners, students organized by professor Tim Francisco at Youngstown State University in eastern Ohio, will be organizing their own data entry party (details here). At Sunlight, we’re also grateful for help we’ve received from students in Andrew Conte’s journalism class at Point State Park University in Pittsburgh and students and volunteers organized by professor Sandra Fish at the University of Colorado.

Democracy is a participatory sport. Join us.