Look Ahead: DocumentCloud Moves to Temple University

Since launching in 2009, DocumentCloud has made life a whole lot easier for many journalists. The open-source platform allows users to upload, search for and analyze more than 3.7 million public documents, such as court filings, hearing transcripts, testimony, legislation, reports and memos.

According to co-founder Aron Pilhofer, the website has been used by more than 8,500 journalists from 1,650 organizations around the world including the New York Times, Guardian and Washington Post. Its massive archive of documents are typically being viewed anywhere from 2 million to 10 million times per week.

“We help them be more open and transparent about their sourcing, showing readers what they know and why they know it, rather than telling them,” he said. “At a time when trust in the media is at an all-time low, DocumentCloud is one way news organizations can start to turn that perception around.”

Aron Pilhofer

DocumentCloud recently found a new home at Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication in Philadelphia, where Pilhofer is the James B. Steele Chair in Journalism Innovation. The platform had been a project of the Investigative Reporters and Editors since 2011. Pilhofer will serve as executive director of DocumentCloud and lead the project on a day-to-day basis. The school plans on hiring several students to help run the platform.

“I think it became clear to everyone that DocumentCloud needed to be its own entity, that it needed to have the focused time and attention of a dedicated staff devoted solely to the platform,” Pilhofer said. “With what’s going on at the Inquirer and the Lenfest Institute, Philadelphia is very quickly becoming the hub of journalism innovation, which is another reason DocumentCloud was a good fit here.”

As part of the move, DocumentCloud will receive a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to build additional features and develop a payment model to support the cost of operating the site. Over time, the school plans to incorporate DocumentCloud into the Klein curriculum as well.

Pilhofer emphasized that the platform will always offer the option of a free account and that news outlets will never be asked to pay for the documents they make public.

“We hope, and believe, they will want to support us, and that is the model we have begun to put in place. We want supporters, not subscribers. There’s a key distinction there,” Pilhofer said. “That said, we can’t keep doing what we are doing without help from our users. Over the past few years, our technology costs have quadrupled. In many respects, that’s what we want. It means people are using us.”

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Published: November 7, 2017

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