Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Public Data Ferret On KOMO 1000: Restaurant Inspections Database

by Matt Rosenberg April 14th, 2010

It was a real kick this morning to start our regular weekly Public Data Ferret feature on KOMO 1000 News Radio in Seattle, scheduled for every Wednesday morning at 9:15. Thanks to “Nine2Noon” anchors Brian Calvert and Nancy Barrick. They do an interesting show that in a lot of ways foreshadows where journalism is going. Lots of other journalists and bloggers, and journalist-bloggers, report on their latest work; their sites get a nice plug. There’s a clear realization by Calvert, Barrick and others at KOMO 1000 that “crowdsourcing” is where it’s at. Together we can do more than apart. The “zero sum competition” model that existed not so long ago in journalism is all but dead and buried. Referring readers and listeners to other valuable sites and sources enhances your utility and your audience. Newspapers are increasingly taking this approach, too. And a big part of the idea behind Public Data Ferret, our stand-alone searchable database of synopsized public documents, is to encourage citizens and citizen journalists to use some of the great tools that are already out there, online. Here’s the audio link (MP3) to today’s Ferret segment on KOMO 1000. Here’s the original online Ferret report we discussed on the air today. The full transcript of today’s radio segment follows, below.

Brian Calvert: “I’m Brian Calvert, KOMO News time, 9:15. And it’s time to check in on the “Nine2Noon” blogosphere. It’s our own little universe of news and informational blogs, here on the radio. And on Wednesdays, we see what’s being posted at communityforums.org, and specifically, the public documents uncovered by the Public Data Ferret. Matt Rosenberg joins us on the line. Matt, how are you doing this morning?”

Matt Rosenberg: “I’m doing great, Brian, how are you guys?”

Brian Calvert: “Doing alright. Now, you guys are Seattle-based, what exactly would you say is the mission of the Public Data Ferret?”

Matt: “Well, our aim is to highlight online tools – documents and data – that will make government more open and will help citizens AND citizen journalists, engage.”

Nancy Barrick: “I love this one, using the online database to scope out health records at restaurants. Now this is definitely news we can use.”

Matt: “Well, it is. And it’s out there for all of us. Hyper-local bloggers, and you and I. I recently discovered the “restaurant inspections online” database (provided by) Public Health Seattle-King County. And inspectors are out there regularly, looking for violations that could increase the risk of food-borne illnesses, and they’re educating the operators, too. So, this is a great tool for citizens and community journalists. You just dial in the zip code you want and you scan the individual reports. So, I gave this (database) a spin for my zip code of 98136 – which is the Morgan Junction area in West Seattle, getting down toward the ferry dock there – and all in all, restaurants are doing pretty well, but you know, caveat emptor, “buyer beware.” There were various issues at certain places, with potential contamination, improper holding temperatures, and in one case – and brace yourselves here, listeners – insects and rodents coming through an unblocked entrance. So, to me, the upshot is, check the records first, always look for improvements where past violations have occurred, and always know that a place with a spotless record is a good bet.”

Brian: “Well, and, it’s really interesting, because you actually sent me the link to that one, and I was punching in some other zip codes, and I think what’s really important to note is when you find a restaurant with a violation, it’s important to note how long ago that violation was, and sometimes, restaurants really do clean up their act when they’re put on notice like this.”

Matt: “Well, that’s absolutely true, Brian, and looking through several dozen inspection reports for (the) 98136 zip code, I saw that pattern again and again. You know, you see four reports. So they go back to 2008 and you can really track progress. And so, a lot of places literally clean up their act, and that’s a tribute to the communication between the health inspectors and the restaurant operators. Here’s something good that government is doing on our behalf, and we may not even be aware of it.”

Nancy: “And how to nip that “ick” factor right in the bud. Now, Matthew, there’s so much good information. We don’t have a lot of time right now, so if folks want to check out the blog, where do they go?”

Matt: “Well, you can do it two ways. You can go through community forums, communityforums.org, and click through to the home page, and you’ll find a Ferret link at the top. Or you can go straight to socialcapitalreview.org, that’s our blog on public engagement, and click on the Ferret’s face!”

Nancy: “That’s easy to remember.”

Brian: “Well Matt, we look forward to our conversations with you every Wednesday at this time. Matt Rosenberg, thanks for joining us this morning, it’s 9:19.”

RELATED: KOMO-AM 1000 broadcasts are live-streamed here.

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