Summer Citizen Reporter Contest

Although I’m a programmer, I also consider myself a journalist. GovTrack reports on what is happening in Congress day by day — even if the reporting is just a nice presentation of a lot of raw, unedited facts about legislation. But I often lament the lack of a human touch, which is why in January I started , now on a bit of a hiatus.

I need your help. The nation needs your help. We all need to be reporters.

So here it is: The Summer Citizen Reporter Contest brought to you by GovTrack will award up to $1,500 in cash prizes for getting an interview with your congressperson or senator on your mobile phone video camera (or a better camera, if you have one). Here’s how it will work:

  • Are you taking a trip to our nation’s capital this summer? If not, this contest is not for you! You’ll need to be in DC for this at a time when Congress is in session. UPDATE: You can now conduct the interview either in DC or in your home district.
  • You must apply to participate in the contest by emailing The reason is that I want to make sure that no two people are planning to interview the same person, and I want to help grease the wheels so you can get an interview. Submit a few questions to me that you think you would like to ask your representative. I’ll give some feedback.
  • If you score an interview, you will be eligible for a prize. 1st place will be $750 cash and three runner-up prizes will be $250 each.
  • The interviews will be judged on the quality of the response

    . That means you have to choose fair, civil questions that are most likely to get good answers! If you go in to complain you’ll probably just get a brief goodbye. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to do a little muckraking. The best responses will be those that address substantive issues, especially with a local aspect.

  • The contest will close on the last day of September. That’s because Congress will be in recess from around Aug 9 to Sept 10. (Yes, I should probably have started this contest sooner!)
  • Any videos submitted must be Creative Commons licensed so they can be freely shared.
  • I’ll judge or I may appoint judges.

I hope you’ll participate!



  1. What a bummer, excluding citizens who are meeting with their reps while they are home during the recess – unfair. I really don’t see why an interview on the Hill is any more significant than one in district! Unless this is just a means of narrowing down those who “qualify.”

    Due to the economic crunch and the expected low long-distance travel this summer, I predict you’ll get a lot more from states that are within driving distance of DC, and near to nothing for the rest of the country.


  2. “I think that’s a bit of looking the gift horse in the mouth.”

    How so? That doesn’t even make any sense. Are you seriously saying I’m ungrateful for your offering something that is not financially and/or geographically unobtainable for the vast majority of Americans?


    1. I just don’t think I owe anyone anything. This was never about paying citizens. It’s about encouraging people, whoever, to get involved in tracking Congress. And I think you’re a little ungrateful that I’m putting up my own money for what I think is for the benefit of the country.


  3. Honestly I just didn’t think of interviews while reps were at home when I was writing out the contest rules. Having written them, I don’t like the idea of changing them while some people might be thinking of participating.

    But I’m not stopping anyone from trying to get an interview with their rep, and I’d certainly be happy to promote any interviews anyone gets whether they are recorded in DC or elsewhere.


  4. Does the Interview HAVE to be with OUR Congressman/woman. I’d love to meet and interview Michele Bachmann even though she is not my representative.


  5. Ken: I don’t think it will be possible to get an interview with anyone but your representative or possibly one of your senators. It’ll be hard enough just getting that.


  6. Seems to me that someone holding a contest may set the rules any way he/she wishes as long as it complies with all applicable laws!

    I will not be able to participate myself as I will not be leaving the great and controversial state of Arizona in the near future. I will, however, be meeting with as many candidates and actual representatives as possible during this election season as I do every election.

    I will offer this to any and all participants. Carefully chosen and worded questions can will will bring out great responses. Among the interviews I have conducted brought about the now common expression, “Bridge to no-where,” after I asked then Congressman Jim Kolbe about a transportation bill that was still in committee!


  7. UPDATE: Okay, I’ve decided that interviews in home districts are good too. There weren’t enough participants looking for an in-DC interview to support the contest. Let’s see if we can get more participants this way!


  8. What if you attend a public hearing for example about sentencing and guidelines where video or camera is not permitted however an educational or informational summary of discussion is submitted?


  9. Try this again, I think it’s a great idea! But do it on a voluntary basis and Facebook it. Look how great Wikipedia works. I just found your site and think it’s great.


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