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March 24, 2011 Volume 32, No. 25

Making government accessible


Website tracks databases

Despite the enormous amount of information available on the Internet, many government records and data are not readily accessible to citizens and journalists. In an effort to improve the transparency in state and local government, David Herzog, a 2010-11 Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellow, has created Open Missouri, a website that helps make more Missouri government data available to citizens, journalists and businesses.

Open Missouri has located more than 135 Missouri state government databases that do not exist anywhere on the Internet. Herzog says one of the most important aspects of the Open Missouri project is that it simply raises awareness that the information exists.

“It is really difficult for journalists and citizens to figure out exactly what data government agencies collect,” Herzog said. “We are hoping to raise awareness about this wealth of data and make it easy for people to access it.”

Open Missouri lists and describes dozens of offline databases. In its next phase, the site will make it easy for users to submit Sunshine requests to the government agency that holds the information. Open Missouri will create an automatic email Sunshine request addressed to the appropriate agency.

Herzog hopes this website will be a model for other states to open their records as well.

“We want to not only inform Missourians about all the data that exists, but also inspire journalists and citizens to seek out and use this information for the benefit of everyone,” he says.

The Open Missouri website, which launched March 17, is free and open to anyone at

Herzog, the academic advisor for the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting, is the author of the book “Mapping the News: Case Studies in GIS and Journalism.” Before joining the Missouri School of Journalism in January 2002, Herzog spent five years as an investigative reporter at the Providence Journal in Rhode Island, where he used computer-assisted reporting to cover public corruption. Earlier, he was the editor for computer-assisted reporting at The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., and a business reporter for The Baltimore Sun.