Today marks five years since we launched the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a project of Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
In our six years of documentation — the canonical database for press freedom violations in the United States dates to January 2017 — the Tracker team has documented more than 1600 incidents across nearly a dozen categories, affecting more than 1100 journalists and news organizations. We’ve published more than 100 in-depth analyses of press freedom issues.
The Tracker’s origin story started well before 2017. The Obama administration was wrapping up eight years of aggressively prosecuting leaks to journalists, a presidential candidate named Donald Trump was openly antagonistic against the media and law enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri, was targeting journalists with crowd-control munitions and arresting more than two dozen covering Black Lives Matter protests after the police-shooting death of Michael Brown there.
Leading press freedom advocates from the U.S. and United Kingdom believed that a nonpartisan site for press freedom incidents in the states would not only serve advocacy efforts, but also inform journalism and legal action. That vision proved prescient; the Tracker is the authoritative site for aggressions against journalists in the U.S., cited in legislation, news stories and the backbone for advocacy efforts around press rights.
To date, we’ve documented nearly 1000 assaults of journalists and 300 arrests or detainments, more than 50 border stops and 250 reports of damaged equipment. More than 140 subpoenas are captured in the site.
The site itself went through a major redesign this year; It now boasts new data visualization capabilities, smarter search functions and increased speeds for downloading the data with our API. The site runs on open source software as of 2020 and the content is available for republication under a creative commons license.
State with the fewest documented press freedom incidents: Wyoming (0)
State with the most documented press freedom incidents: Oregon (260)
The Tracker is uniquely positioned to give both a real-time view of aggressions against the media (we live-tracked as 18 journalists were assaulted while covering the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol) while also capturing trends over time (eight individuals have since been charged with crimes for those assaults). It’s how we can tell you that at least 60 journalists have sued law enforcement following their treatment at protests since 2017 and that by the time Twitter permanently suspended his account on Jan. 8, then-President Trump had posted 2,520 tweets degrading journalists and the media as a whole.
We don’t know what the state of press freedom in the U.S. will look like in the years ahead, but we know it is best served with a robust and well-maintained Tracker in its press freedom watchdog role.