Founded in October 2019 by longtime journalist and media critic Dan Froomkin, Press Watch is an independent non-profit organization devoted to encouraging political journalists to fulfill their essential mission of creating an informed electorate and holding the powerful accountable. It is funded by donations from readers and the philanthropic community.
The Trump era, like never before, has exposed the weakness of the elite media’s refusal to be seen as “taking sides” in matters of public interest — even when it comes to verification of facts and democracy. As a result, corporate political journalism ends up spreading lies instead of shouting the truth. It engages in false equivalence that normalizes outrageous political extremism.
Even before Trump, a fairly coherent and consistent critique of political journalism at our major news outlets had emerged: It’s too shallow, too attracted to spectacle and too easily distracted. It is forgetful and indifferent to expertise. It is too quick to normalize abnormal behavior. It considers elitist conventional wisdom to be objective, and is out of touch with the rest of America. It spreads, rather than refutes, disinformation. It is tongue-tied on racial and gender issues. It is obsessed with conflict and finding two sides; with the horserace and with gotchas. It values access to the powerful over giving voice to the voiceless. It prizes optics over substance and cynicism over hope.
But our top newsroom leaders have seen no need for a course change. In particular, they have failed to respond to the growing asymmetry between the political parties, even as one became overtly counter-majoritarian, anti-democratic, and unmoored to reality.
This website is intended to agitate for change. It encourages reporters to fight disinformation more enthusiastically and effectively, especially when our democracy and people’s lives are at stake. It identifies best practices that others can emulate. It urges the reality-based parts of the industry to explicitly condemn Fox News and other far-right propaganda outlets as disinformation operations.
People who love journalism are deeply troubled by the media’s loss of credibility with the public. Press Watch’s view is that we lose credibility by not fighting more assertively for the truth.
About Dan Froomkin
Dan Froomkin is a trailblazer in the area of online accountability journalism with nearly three decades of experience building, editing and contributing to websites including the Huffington Post, The Intercept, and the Nieman Foundation’s Watchdog Project. Over 12 years at the Washington Post, he served as Editor of the website and wrote its enormously popular White House Watch column. He teaches at New York University’s American Journalism Online master’s program. He began his career as a local news reporter at the Winston-Salem Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Orange County Register. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.