Check out a fascinating piece by Wired News senior editor Kevin Poulsen, a former computer hacker known as "Dark Dante," turned journalist. (Thanks to Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow for the story alert.)
In "MySpace Predator Caught by Code, Poulsen details how he wrote a computer script to hunt for registered sex offenders using MySpace, the social networking webisite popular with millions of children, including my three teenage daughters. Kids use their MySpace to keep in touch with old friends and make new ones by sharing photos, musics, videos, personal profiles and , blog posts with their friends.
Poulsen's first step demonstrates how sophisticated programming coupled with public records can produce investigate reporting of the first order, in this case, leading to the arrest of a New York registered sex offender named Andrew
In May, I began an automated search of MySpace's membership rolls for 385,932 registered sex offenders in 46 states, mined from the Department of Justice's National Sex Offender Registry website -- a gateway to the state-run Megan's Law websites around the country. I searched on first and last names, limiting results to a five mile radius of the offender's registered ZIP code..."
The automated script searched MySpace's 1 million-plus profiles for registered sex offenders -- and soon found one that was back on the prowl for seriously underage boys."
Poulsen worked for months on his probe, and has written a deft, and enormously creep true crime narrative. But there's reason other news organizations can't quickly piggyback on his work. "Wired News will publish the code under an open-source license later this week," the article reports.
Here's yet another impressive example of the way technology is transforming news-gathering, and, IMHO, a signal that traditional journalists need to follow Poulsen's lead to use such tools to serve the public interest.
(Source of Image of registered sex offender Andrew Lubrano's MySpace profile: Wired News