⚙️ New Tool Released

Announcing Quackbot, a Slack bot for journalists from Quartz and DocumentCloud

Quartz and DocumentCloud are teaming up to give journalists convenient access to tools that make their work easier, better, and a little more fun. Together we’re releasing Quackbot, which performs tasks useful to reporters, editors, and news producers right where so many of us work all day—inside Slack.

In its first version, Quackbot can do a select few tricks that might prove handy in a modern newsroom, from grabbing screenshots of webpages to pointing out clichés. But we’re excited to collaborate with the rest of the journalism world to give Quackbot many more skills over time. Think of it as a fully hosted and friendly interface to open-source tools.

The bot can be installed starting this Thursday, October 5. If you want to try the very first version, join us at the Online News Association conference in Washington, DC. We’re giving away bots and beers at Open City bar on Thursday between 4:30 and 6pm (RSVP here). For those of you who are interested but won’t be in town, let us know here.

Making journalism tools more accessible

Journalist-programmers are an especially sharing lot. Sure, they’ll work night and day to scoop each other, but once the story’s published they’re happy to share how they did it — even sharing the tools they built. As a result, there are many dozens of useful tools available to programmers in newsrooms everywhere.

But there’s a catch: Not every newsroom has programmers. And even existing programmers might not have the time, skills, or resources to get a project’s code, put it on a server, and keep it working.

That’s where Quackbot comes in. We want to make many of these existing open-source tools—and any new ones that are created—more accessible to a wider array of newsrooms. Together, we can improve the workflows of many digital journalists.

Just a duckling

We’ve been working on the foundations for Quackbot in the Quartz Bot Studio, and have started by giving it just a handful of skills:

  1. It can take a screenshot of any webpage.
  2. It will preserve any URL by telling the Internet Archive to save a copy of the page.
  3. Given a topic, it can suggest some reliable sources of data.
  4. If you provide Quackbot with a URL, it will identify any cringe-worthy clichés on that page.

Soon, Quackbot will also allow journalists to upload PDFs to DocumentCloud, extract text and charts from PDFs, monitor websites for changes, make quick charts, and more. We’re also inviting other journalists to bring their tools into Quackbot, making them readily available within Slack. If you’d like to add yours, please reach out to us at bots@qz.com.

This whole project is thanks to a Knight Foundation grant that’s funding the Quartz Bot Studio’s work. As with all of DocumentCloud’s work and several Quartz tools, you can view the underlying code on Github as we continue building.

DocumentCloud: the new home for journalism tools?

When we started looking for a home for Quackbot, we wanted to find a way to get the tool into as many newsrooms as we could as quickly as possible. We also wanted a partner with experience building and scaling tools that journalists use.

DocumentCloud.org was the obvious choice.

Launched in 2009, DocumentCloud is a nonprofit, open-source platform designed to build trust in journalism by helping journalists share, annotate, analyze and ultimately publish source documents. It is now in more than 1,650 newsrooms worldwide, with a user base of more than 8,000 journalists.

Quackbot is a bit of an experiment for DocumentCloud. If successful, we hope it will be the first of many journalism tools hosted there.

Once it is fully launched, Quackbot will become a core feature of DocumentCloud, which will maintain the infrastructure and provide troubleshooting and support.

Installing Quackbot

Quackbot will be available starting this Thursday. All you’ll need is a DocumentCloud account (free for any journalist) and Slack. Add Quackbot to your team and, once the DocumentCloud team has verified you, we’ll activate it. That’s it.

We’ll help you install Quackbot, and give you a beer, at our ONA event Thursday. If you’d like to install Quackbot and can’t make it, let us know here.

And, as always, you can drop us a note at bots@qz.com.