Last week I mentioned the political ads database that we’re building here at the Missouri School of Journalism as a part of a website that will help inform and engage people around Columbia in the 2012 elections.

The database will be the heart of Political AdVault and will contain detailed information about every broadcast television ad that runs in the Columbia-Jefferson City local market. Already, these ads are making local news.

As I mentioned in the earlier blog post, the Federal Communications Commission requires licensed commercial TV stations to make this information available for public viewing at the stations’ business offices during regular hours. The FCC has proposed updating this rule by requiring stations to post the information on the commission’s website.

To build the database, broadcast journalism student Brian Pepoon and I are checking in with the stations weekly and obtaining copies of the ad purchases. Every Monday or Tuesday we:

  • Visit KOMU, the J-School’s NBC affiliate TV station and see if the advertising staff has information about any new runs. We pay 25 cents for each copy, which KOMU provides on paper.
  • Call KMIZ, the Columbia ABC affiliate of The Networks of Mid-Missouri, to see if it has any new ad runs. If it does, we visit the station and pay for PDF copies of the ads at 75 cents per page. We also pick up information about ads run on KQFX, the Networks’ Fox affiliate.
  • Call KRCG, the CBS affiliate in New Bloomfield, to check in about any new ads. If the station has ads we drive around 90 miles round trip to pick up paper copies at 10 cents a page. Yes, we need to drive nearly 100 miles to collect this information from a station in the local TV market. Crazy, but that’s how we have to gather this information with no FCC rules mandating online disclosure.


View KRCG in a larger map

Everyone we’ve met at the stations has been very helpful and conscientious about meeting their obligations to the FCC’s rules.

When we back to the J-School, we take any paper copies of the ad buys to mail room, where a staff member scans them into PDFs. I upload all the PDFs into DocumentCloud, which is a document analysis, sharing and annotating platform hosted by Investigative Reporters and Editors, a journalism membership organization for which I do work.

Here’s an example of an ad buy placed for CrossroadsGPS, a super PAC, on KOMU.

Next, we’re going to enter that information from the ad buys into a database that we can share with you on the web. Our hope is to inform you about the political ads and help spark conversation about then.