API Interrogation

by Kin Lane, API Evangelist Twitter LinkedIn Github Email

I was doing some investigation into how journalists are using APIs, or could / should be using APIs. After some quick Googling, Binging, and DuckDuckGoing, I came across a workshop by  David Eads of ProPublica Illinois, called a A hitchhiker's guide To APIs. As I began reading, I was struck by how well it captured not only usage of Postman in journalism, but also how well it captures what Postman does in general in a single precise sentence, “In this hands-on session, you will use Postman to interrogate a web API.” That is how I use Postman. That is why 10 million developers use Postman. 

APIs are how we can interrogate the digital world unfolding around us. It is increasingly how we can interrogate the digital world emerging across our physical worlds. I like the concept in general, but definitely think it is something I should explore further when it comes to journalism and investigative storytelling. Postman provides a pretty powerful way to get at the data being published by city, county, state, and federal government. It also provides a robust way to get at the social currents flowing around us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other leading platforms. Postman and APIs provides technical and non-technical users with what they need to target a source of data or content, authenticate, and begin interrogating the source for all relevant information.

I find that interrogating a startup is best done via their own API, as well as their digital presence via Twitter, LinkedIn, GitHub, Stack Overflow, Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram using APIs, over speaking with them directly. I find that interrogating a federal agency is often only possible through the datasets it publishes, providing me with a self service way to understand a specific slice of the how our society works (or doesn’t). While I can interrogate a company, organization, institution, and government agencies using their websites, I find that also being able to interrogate their platform, operations, communities, industries and overall online presence using APIs provides a much more honest view of what is happening. Allowing me to read between the lines of what is occuring in real time, rather than relying on official marketing and communication channels for the official narrative.

Postman provides me with what I need to interrogate any API Uniform Resource Locator (URL) or Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) I come across. It allows me apply standard authentication methods, or replicate the existing cookie authenticate applied within the browser, and securely access online resources. Allowing me to fine tune the API requests I make, adjusting the parameters and headers, and dial in each request. It also lets me properly inspect each response, which allows me to assert control over much of the interrogation process. Postman reveals many of the silent elements of how the web works, which many of us are completely unaware of or just take for granted, which might also have significant influence over me getting access to the answers I am looking for. Postman allows me interrogate companies, organizations, institutions, and government agencies using the web, helping me find the information I need to do my job.

I will spend more time telling stories about how Postman can be used by journalists to interrogate data, content, and algorithmic resources. I will also use the word interrogation more to describe what Postman does. Developers tend to dominate the discussion around how APIs are put to use in web, mobile, and device applications. However, I feel like the potential for less technical folks to put APIs to work is where the larger opportunities exsit. We just have to get better at telling stories that reach journalists, and other non-developer users and help them understand what APIs are, and how Postman can help them put APIs to work without writing code. I’ll work on some more examples of how Postman can be used as part of a journalists toolbox, and find more examples of useful APIs that apply to what the type of investigative journalism happening today. Who knows, maybe I’ll riff off of David Eads workshop, and provide some more hands on sessions showing how Postman can be used to interrogate a wide variety of APIs in support of journalism.