Frequently Asked Questions
What is the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker?
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker aims to comprehensively document press freedom violations in the United States committed by national, state, and local authorities, as well as by private individuals. These include: journalist arrests, assaults, border stops, camera and equipment seizures, surveillance orders, subpoenas, and more.
This is a difficult time to be a journalist in the United States. Journalists have been arrested at protests and charged with felonies; stopped and searched at the border; and in at least one case, assaulted by a congressional candidate. President Donald Trump has used vitriolic rhetoric targeting individual journalists and media organizations, undermining the role a free press should play in a democracy. This has prompted renewed interest in domestic press freedom issues.
This website will track those incidents, but the Trump administration is not the only authority that needs to be held to account. We will also track press freedom violations by local politicians and police departments. Many of the trends that this site will document—such as prosecutions of alleged leakers—increased dramatically under the Obama administration, prompting a number of the press organizations involved in this project to increase their focus on the United States.
The groups involved in this site came together because we realized that in the midst of a tense climate for press freedom, there was no central repository for shared data. There was no single place to find the number of journalists arrested in a given year or the number of leak prosecutions. This site sets out to change that, and, in doing so, will serve as a resource for journalists and press freedom advocates.
Who is involved in the site?
Freedom of the Press Foundation is leading the day-to-day operations of the site, with its senior reporter Peter Sterne serving as managing editor of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. The Committee to Protect Journalists is providing the initial funding and chairing the steering committee that also includes representatives from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, Reporters Without Borders, and Index on Censorship. Please find a full list of partners on our About page.
What is the process for documenting and verifying cases on the tracker?
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker receives tips directly from individual journalists and from a wide network of partner organizations. All tips are thoroughly vetted and reported as cases by the managing editor of the site before being published.
Why doesn’t the site include data from before 2017?
We do not feel that data collected retroactively would meet our rigorous research standards. We believe that data collected before we established a tracking system, methodology, and outreach is likely to be less comprehensive and therefore likely to underestimate the number of incidents before 2017.
Who does the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker count as a journalist?
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker adopts a functional definition of who is a journalist. It doesn’t matter whether the individual has a press pass or went to journalism school, whether they work for The New York Times or work for themselves. What matters is whether the person was performing an act of journalism. The tracker will count journalists whose rights to gather and disseminate information were violated in the course of their work or as a result of their work.
In the case of border stops, the resistance of U.S. authorities to provide information makes it extremely difficult to identify whether a journalist has been stopped because of their work. So although it is possible that some journalists may be stopped for other reasons, we will report cases of all journalists who are stopped at the border and questioned for a certain amount of time.
A journalist who attends a protest in order to protest publicly, rather than to document the protest, and is arrested or attacked in that capacity will not be counted on the site. While we recognize the importance and the rights of the private citizen who snaps a photo or video of an arrest, this site will only cover individuals who self-identify as journalists and have some track record of journalistic work.
Why don’t you collect comprehensive data on broader threats to press freedom, like abusive civil suits and online threats and harassment?
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is focused on collecting quantitative data on press freedom incidents based on news reports and tips submitted by journalists, professional organizations, and press freedom organizations. For categories like “online threats,” this methodology of collecting data would severely underestimate the total number of incidents. Therefore, while we may occasionally report on some incidents that fall outside our core areas in the “other” category—and label them with tags such as “online harassment” or “civil lawsuit”—we are not attempting to gather comprehensive quantitative data on those types of incidents. The organizations involved in the site will continue to report vigorously on these topics and qualitative investigations will appear on the blog.
If a case is on the US Press Freedom Tracker, does that mean that all the organizations involved in the project agree on it?
We believe that collaboration and the creation of a shared repository of knowledge is vital, but this does not mean that all organizations will agree on and advocate for every case. This is a good thing: If major press freedom organizations echoed each other on every case or incident, it would be a sign that we had lost the independent investigations and robust debates that make the press freedom field vibrant.
As the managing editor, Freedom of the Press Foundation will take responsibility for all cases included on the site.
Who funds this project?
This project was underwritten by support from individuals and private foundations, including the Boston-based Barr Foundation. As part of a settlement agreement with Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte contributed $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which it has put toward this project.
How can I donate to this project?
Please donate directly to one of the partner organizations involved in the project. You can find a full list here.