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Getting around PIOs with Web Inspector

By Mayra Cruz

One way to get around bureaucratic hassles is to get the to the data directly by scraping it off the Web.

The fight for public records can sometimes be avoided by taking the data directly from websites, Dan Nguyen of ProPublica said.

On Saturday, Nguyen led a hands-on class of “Web Inspector,” which refers to a Google Chrome add-on that allows non-programmers to obtain information posted online. Using it can help familiarize journalists with HTML by recognizing patterns in Web coding.

Getting familiar with HTML markup language may be daunting, but Web inspector can help reporters understand it by looking at the structure of a page. Repetitive information, such as tags, which are listed all over a Web page, can be easily found and help reporters to make sense of what would otherwise look like online gibberish.

Web inspector can help identify areas of interest buried online. After finding a way to capture the information and exporting it to an easier to use format, the data can then be mined for analysis. Almost everything from image captures to databases can be found, Nguyen said.

Before sending that FOI request and waiting for long periods of time for that data, check out the information online to see if it can be scraped.

Mayra Cruz is a graduate student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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