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Our New Tool Helps Journalists Find News Tips on the Web

Free, open-source software aids reporting by watching government websites for you.

The Marshall Project is excited to unveil a shiny new version of its open source reporting tool called Klaxon that is ready to be put to work by reporters and editors in news organizations large and small.

For more than two years, The Marshall Project has been developing and testing Klaxon and using it in in our daily reporting. This web-based software enables journalists and researchers to monitor scores of websites, including data-heavy governmental or corporate sites, for newsworthy changes. When Klaxon detects an update, a reporter receives an alert through email or a designated Slack channel. This innovation has allowed our reporters to keep track of death row cases, federal civil rights investigations and government budgets and spending.

Last September, we initially made Klaxon available in a “developers release” intended for newsroom programmers to test and provide feedback. Today, we are pleased to announce Klaxon v 0.2.0, an updated version that can be deployed in any newsroom. This release adds new features and fixes bugs in the code, representing increased usability and polish. Among the improvements are easier creation of alerts, better management of a newsroom's collection of watched websites and more accurate reporting of changes.

The Marshall Project has used Klaxon to report on government agencies at the local, state and federal levels. One change Klaxon spotted for us a couple weeks ago on the White House’s website illustrates its utility. In a policy statement on law enforcement and criminal justice, the White House initially stated, erroneously, that murders had risen 50 percent in Washington, D.C. A few days later, the White House quietly corrected itself by adding “over the past four years.” Because Klaxon was monitoring that page, we were alerted to this change before other news organizations. In addition to notifying you when a website changes, Klaxon compiles a history of each web page it watches, allowing you to track how government agencies, like the White House for example, revise their official policies and positions over time.

A screenshot of a change alert in Klaxon.

A screenshot of a change alert in Klaxon.

Klaxon has already been used in the newsrooms of The New York Times, the Associated Press, ProPublica, the Seattle Times, the Texas Tribune, the Washington Post and more. To bring Klaxon to your newsroom, read about how to quickly set it up at the project’s Github repository. We welcome contributions from developer-journalists interested in building new features and from journalists wishing to make the documentation easier to navigate for new Klaxon adoptees. To get involved, read more here.