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5 Ways Bloggers Can Use OpenCongress to Build Public Knowledge About Congress

February 8, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

One of the best things about getting news online, be it on blogs or elsewhere, is that it’s so easy to take the information and dig in deeper. Since bloggers and online journalists can link to primary sources for their reporting, everyone can easily engage with the issues they care about on a deeper level.

Political engagement is what we care about the most at OpenCongress. We think it’s fundamental for fighting corruption, dysfunction and apathy in our government. That’s why we’re striving to make the best primary source information on Congress for political bloggers to use. Every page on OpenCongress gives you—

  • The best one-page summary — all the crucial official information on bills, issues, senators and reps. is available at-a-glance on a single page.
  • The ability to write your members of Congresslogin (or register) to your free “My OpenCongress” account, and emailing your federal elected officials about a bill is just one click away.
  • A chance to create political networks — use our pages to coordinate actions with people that feel the same way as you on an issue. OpenCongress pages have created powerful coalitions that have affected legislation.
  • Information in context — Rather than just showing bills, senators, reps. and issues, we let you know you which ones people are paying the most attention to on the internet and which ones are “hot.”

Here are five ways bloggers and journalists can use OpenCongress right now to help shed more light on D.C. and give people the information they need to hold power accountable:

1) Always Give a Link When You Write About Bills

Too often, bloggers and journalists don’t give a link when they write about bills in Congress. Sometimes they don’t even tell readers exactly which bill they’re talking about. Providing a link to a bill turns a blog post into an opportunity for real political engagement because it gives your readers a chance to get involved by doing their own research and taking action. Plus, links go a long way to boost the authority and value of your posts.

We have pages for every single bill in Congress. You can find “hot” bills here, and you can use the search bar in the upper right to find all other bills. Our bill pages combine official information about Congress with news and blog coverage, and the social wisdom of our users. See a sample bill page by clicking here.

As a bonus, every time you link to a bill on OpenCongress, your post will automatically show up on that bill’s OpenCongress page in the blog or news coverage feed. OpenCongress is the most popular government transparency site in the U.S., and we’ve had some reports of links on our bill pages creating a lot of traffic.

2) Link to the Exact Provision You’re Talking About

When you write about a specific provision in a bill, you can use OpenCongress to give your readers a link directly to the provision you’re talking about so they can read it in context for themselves. This way you can have the authority and trust that a primary-source link gets you, even when you’re writing about a single line of text, or a single word, within a gigantic, 1,000+ page bill.

To generate the links, just scroll over any section of legislative text on an OpenCongress bill page and a “permalink” button will appear. Click the button to create a custom url that you can use to bring your readers directly to the part of the bill you are writing about.

3) Show People How Their Members of Congress Voted

Every time Congress takes a vote on a bill, amendment or nomination, OpenCongress creates a page that shows how every member of Congress voted. Linking to our roll call pages lets your readers dig down to see how their own senators and representatives voted. Then they can either email their elected officials in one click from the OpenCongress page to tell them how they feel about their vote, or remember the vote for when election time comes around.

You can find roll call pages on the “actions and votes” tab of bill pages, or at our main roll call page.

We also offer the ability to link to vote position breakdowns by party, so, for example, you can easily share a link to the Democrats who voted “no” on health care, or the Republicans who voted “aye” on the stimulus.

4) Give an Unbiased Way to Learn About Members of Congress

People want to know who their representatives and senators actually are and what they actually stand for. But too often, that information is hidden by spin and bias. At OpenCongress, we have comprehensive, fact-based pages for every member of Congress including information on their voting history, bill sponsorship and co-sponsorship, committee assignments, biography and much more.

Members of Congress’s official pages are full of tailored information and politically-convenient statements. Wikipedia pages don’t have comprehensive information on actual bills and votes. When you write about the congresscritters, there’s no better place to link to than OpenCongress to give your readers an unbiased source to learn all about them. Our pages are built on raw data — members of Congress can’t hide from the facts we present.

5) Link to Race Pages to Build Knowledge About Candidates

As the mid-term election season ramps up, we’re providing simple pages that give you the basic facts for each Senate and House race. The 2010 RaceTracker is a non-partisan, fully-referenced, open-source and crowd-sourced wiki project tracking every congressional race, nationwide.

So, when you’re talking about Sen. Arlen Specter re-election chances, you can easily share information on his challengers from the left and the right. RaceTracker pages show you who’s a confirmed candidate, who’s considering, and who is just rumored to be running. They also show you how much money each potential candidate has raised, and give you links to get more background info about each candidate.

What resources on Congress do you want that we aren’t providing? Leave a comment on this post or email us at writeus@opencongress.org and we’ll build it if it is technically possible.

OpenCongress is a non-partisan, non-profit public resource website — we encourage you to link back to this post and share what you find here with friends and bloggers. Thanks for using OpenCongress to help build factual public knowledge about Congress.

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