Andrew McGill
Your friendly neighborhood journalist

02/15/2016

Building “Omniturebot,” a Slack bot for keeping tabs on traffic

One of my everyday frustrations as a journalist is the veritable symphony of mouse clicks required to get web traffic stats for your stories.

Yes, Chartbeat is super easy to use. But it only tracks concurrent users, not unique visitors or pageviews, which your bosses actually care about. And pulling those stats from Google Analytics or Omniture quickly devolves into a multi-step nightmare that makes setting the clock on your microwave after a power outage look downright enjoyable.

At The Atlantic, we use Omniture, or whatever Adobe is calling it these days. We also use Slack, the popular work chat client, which offers extensive scripting and automation capabilities.

After a day of one too many segment-selections and filter-applications, I asked myself, couldn’t a robot do this better?

Enter Omniturebot. It’s a Slack bot that uses your Omniture credentials to pull traffic stats at a moment’s notice, accepting a keyword and a timespan and returning the relevant stats.

Using it, getting my most recent stats is as easy as chatting @omniturebot and asking "andrew mcgill" (1 month). It’ll happily return:

omniturebot-output

Omniturebot is written in Node.js and can easily be deployed via Heroku or any SaaS provider. (You can also easily run it in your local environment, if you’d prefer.) It’s written to handle multiple users, though admittedly I haven’t tested against a ton of concurrent requests.

I hope it makes pulling traffic numbers as easy and enjoyable as it has for me!

02/8/2016

Now at The Atlantic

I’m late to my own news, but I’m excited to say I’m now working at The Atlantic, an awesome publication in Washington, D.C. I’ve joined their politics team and will be writing and coding about the 2016 election and beyond.

It’s a return from reporting after a year supervising the graphics department at National Journal. I’m pumped to produce my own work again. And The Atlantic has already proved to be an interesting place to work — an ideas magazine that cares about good writing and values a sense of fun. Onward.

05/31/2015

How I scraped Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi emails

This May, the U.S. State Department released 296 of the 30,000 government emails previously stored on Hillary Clinton’s private server.

Or rather, they tried to.

State directed reporters to download the emails from the department’s “virtual reading room” (one of many government silos of FOIA data that really should be cataloged on data.gov). But given the world’s intense interest in former Secretary Clinton’s communications, the site slowed to a crawl. Read more »

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Stories

09/23/2013 | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh’s parking authority photographs millions of drivers a year

Donna Sciulli is one of the most photographed women in Pittsburgh.

On Aug. 30, they snapped shots of her picking up groceries at the Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. in the Strip District. Two days earlier, shutters flew as she drove past the U.S. Steel Tower.

And outside her Beechview home, she’s been pictured nearly a dozen times.

Ms. Sciulli is not a celebrity. She is, however, one of the 80,000 Pittsburgh drivers whose license plates had been scanned multiple times in August by the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, which is using cameras mounted on cruisers to record a massive database of where and when everyday people go about their business. Read more »

Background: Through an open records request, I received and analyzed a massive database of license plates scanned by the Pittsburgh Parking Authority. After the story ran, the authority beefed up its privacy policies. This interactive was included with the story.

06/11/2013 | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Data shows double-dipping on tax breaks

Richard Harshman heads a company that makes $5 billion a year. He has two homes in Upper St. Clair. He pulled in $12 million in 2011, according to Forbes Magazine.

So it came as a surprise to the Allegheny Technologies Inc. CEO when he got a letter from Allegheny County officials explaining that he was shorting them $85 a year in property tax revenue, thanks to an easy-to-miss — and improper — double deduction.

Mr. Harshman, like hundreds of other property owners in the county, has two homes with homestead exemptions, a tax break that’s supposed to reward homeownership but can be used only once. Read more »

Background: Using Microsoft Access (and a bit of MySQL), I searched Pittsburgh's property rolls for homeowners taking duplicate tax exemptions. No small task, given the number of properties in the city — and the ways to hide ownership.

03/28/2013 | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

When top official demanded undated resignation letters, few resisted

Rex Crawley is not a politician. As a member of the Community College of Allegheny County’s board of trustees, he doesn’t get paid, doesn’t get much prestige.

He joined the board for many reasons, but one stands out: because too many young people — especially black men, like himself — can’t get the education they need to succeed.

So it surprised him when Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who sponsored his nomination to the CCAC board, asked him to sign an undated resignation letter.

“I did not respond immediately,” said Mr. Crawley, who is an assistant dean at Robert Morris University. “I had to really think about the implications. I’m nervous about if I’m ever in conflict with Rich’s perspective or his desires, that’s going to be kind of a problem.” Read more »

Background: Allegheny County's top official had a policy of requiring undated resignation letters from his independent political appointees. After this story ran, he dropped the practice.
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I'm Andrew, a Philadelphian in Washington, D.C. who plans to die happy.

Right now, I make things for The Atlantic. Read my resume, follow me on Twitter, shoot me an email, give me a call or send me a text.
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