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Cronkite Lab Creates App Connecting Citizens, Elected Officials

May 19, 2010

The Cronkite School’s New Media Innovation Lab has developed an innovative iPhone application that makes it easier for citizens to connect with their elected officials.

The Arizona Political Directory application allows mobile users to search for their federal, state and county representatives using their smartphone’s built-in GPS system. No matter where a user is in the state, the app will identify which elected officials represent that location. The app, which also is searchable by office, district or name, provides links to the officials’ websites, short biographies and contact information.

The app is free and available for download in the iTunes store. A Droid-compatible version is currently in development.

The New Media Innovation Lab developed the application for The Arizona Guardian, an online political and public affairs publication.

The lab, which is staffed by students from across the university, has been developing new media products and conducting research for news organizations since it opened in 2006. It is led by Retha Hill, a digital media leader and former vice president for BET Interactive, the online unit of Black Entertainment Television.

Hill said the Arizona Guardian project is a win-win, providing a media outlet with an innovative new product while giving students invaluable experience in digital media development.

Cody Shotwell and Elizabeth Shell, both recent graduates of the Cronkite School, began work on the Arizona Political Directory last fall while working in the innovation lab as part of their graduate studies.

"With this project, our students had to use their reporting skills to get information on every elected official from the county level on up; they had to use project management skills to make sure they delivered what the client needed; and they had to quickly get comfortable with the intricate procedure of developing an app that would be acceptable in the Apple store,” Hill said.

Students also worked with coders and traveled across the state testing the application’s performance.

Hill said the data available in the Arizona Political Directory is exactly the kind of information that newspapers used to publish in political directories prior to an election.

“Today, we can deliver relevant information to people when they need it – when they are engaged in an issue and want to immediately call, tweet or e-mail a representative – and where they need it, based on the geographic location of the user,” Hill said.

Other projects developed by the lab include a bartering site for mothers to swap goods and services, which is slated to become part of azcentral.com’s offerings, Facebook applications and a variety of widgets for media clients.

The lab has developed a green game to increase energy awareness and conducted research about how young people use new media for the Newspaper Association of America Foundation and for the Gannett Co.

For more information on the lab and its projects, contact Hill at Retha.hill@asu.edu.