Jacob
Fenton

Journalist, Software Developer, Media Consultant

I'm a journalist based in Portland, Oregon and the founding editor of The Portland Record, a nascent civic data and news startup focused on data journalism and collaborative reporting.

I've been based in Portland since 2016, working primarily as a consultant / contractor on projects for clients, including The New York Times, ProPublica, The Investigative Reporting Workshop, The Center for Investigative Reporting / REVEAL, The Sunlight Foundation, Transparency International, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Kaiser Health News and others. I've been increasingly concerned about the state of local media; since 2018 I've worked on smaller projects with local groups including Oregon Public Broadcasting, Underscore News, The Portland Tribune, The Lund Report and InvestigateWest.

In 2015/2016 I was a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. Prior to that I was Editorial Engineer at the Sunlight Foundation, in Washington D.C. where I specialized in campaign finance and congressional ethics data. Before that I worked as Director of Computer-Assisted Reporting at the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University; as Database Editor at the Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania); and as a beat reporter for newspapers in Pennsylvania and California. Ages ago I was an intern at Willamette Week and a reporter for the Portland State University Vanguard.

Recent Work

Portland

For much of the pandemic I've helped Oregon Public Broadcasting keep tabs on the coronavirus, including a trio of charts, shown below as an image, that lived on their home page in early 2021. The originals were built in svelte.js

I requested COVID-19 vaccine data by ZIP code, fought the state for months to get it released, and ran the analysis used for Amelia Templeton's piece about vaccinations. I also wrote a number of pieces focused on numeric trends in COVID data for The Lund Report, available only to subscribers. You can see me discussing one on KPTV-12, the local FOX affiliate.

Before the pandemic I worked with Pamplin Media, InvestigateWest and REVEAL on an analysis of high school athletic concussions; with The Portland Tribune's Nick Budnick on earthquake risk; and, via The Portland Record, contributed to this story of how a Woodburn cop who served for years on the state's police oversight board gave up his own license to work in law enforcement rather than face an investigation.

National

Much of my recent "data practice" has involved helping clients work through voluminous and complex federal records. On contract for The Investigative Reporting Workshop, in Washington, D.C., I lead development of The Accountability Project, an effort to make 1.4 billion public records searchable on a shoestring budget. The project draws off of my years processing campaign finance records at The Sunlight Foundation and on contract for The New York Times.

After working on dark money in the campaign finance space, I developed a specialty in related nonprofit tax records, and have loosely collaborated with The Aspen Institute's nonprofit data project. Following a project for ProPublica's nonprofit explorer, I released IRSx, an open source library for standardizing e-filed nonprofit tax returns. I've worked on nonprofit tax records and data with The Chronicle of Philanthropy, The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and others. I pulled data for Kaiser Health News used in this story by Jordan Rau to show that nonprofit hospitals weren't living up to their charitable obligations. With The Accountability Project, I helped The Forward prove that some of a prominent South Florida donor's charity came directly from entities accused of laundering Ukrainian money in this piece by Molly Boigon.

I've trained journalists on investigative techniques and related technologies at national conferences going back more than a decade. In 2020, with Transparency International / Russia, I led weekly classes on the United States' regulatory regimes on money laundering, nonprofits, campaign finance and foreign lobbying for a team of American and Russian journalists and technologists.

Contact

I'm reachable by email at jsfenfen at gmail. Send me an email if you need to talk on Signal or another secure channel. I'm also on Linkedin and Github.