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Why We're Retiring VPR's Sewage Bot In 2017


As we wrap up 2016, VPR is thinking about how we can start the new year with renewed energy and focus. Our news team has many important upcoming projects to consider, so we've decided to bid farewell to an existing favorite.

Vermont, it's time to say goodbye to the poop bot.

In the summer of 2015, I worked with my colleague Taylor Dobbs to tell the story of Vermont's sewage. We knew that overflow information was publicly available, but we also knew that it wasn't easily accessible and that often times it wasn't being reported as quickly as Vermonters deserved.

Taylor handled the actual reporting, and I wrote a Python script to scrape the state's website of reported sewage overflows. Three times a day, this code ran automatically. When it found new information on the site, my code formatted each update into 140 characters and automatically tweeted the news at @dirtywatervt.

I'm proud to say that the combination of Taylor's reporting and my Twitter bot led to new legislation earlier this year that called for improved public notification of sewage spills. Additionally, in July, the state launched their own email and text message sewage spill notification system.

Our little bot served its purpose. Now, I'm ready to turn it off and focus my efforts elsewhere.

What kinds of VPR newsroom code projects are coming up next? I've got my attention on Klaxon, an open-source tool from The Marshall Project that streamlines the process of monitoring data-heavy websites.

I'm encouraged by the growing community of newsroom developers, and I'm eager to continue building technologies that help reporters to find and tell stories. If you'd like to follow along, keep an eye on VPR's GitHub page. Now more than ever, I'm dedicated to sharing our digital projects from day one of development.

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