In order to provide a comprehensive account of these incidents, more than 20 media organizations (including the News Media Alliance, Online News Association and American Society of News Editors) have teamed up to launch the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. The nonpartisan website (pressfreedomtracker.us) is dedicated to documenting press freedom violations throughout the country and will track incidents such as arrests, assaults, border stops, camera and equipment seizures, subpoenas and surveillance orders, across all levels of government.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation oversees the site, with its senior reporter Peter Sterne serving as managing editor. In addition to compiling the data, Sterne will also write feature stories and trend pieces related to press freedom issues.
“Many journalists are happy that someone is finally tracking this information comprehensively,” Sterne said. “They knew that other reporters were being arrested or sometimes physically assaulted at protests, but nobody was aware of how much of it was happening.”
As of Aug. 17, U.S. Press Freedom Tracker says there have been 19 arrests of journalists, 12 equipment searches, 15 physical attacks on journalists and four border stops of journalists this year. Recent incidents posted on the site include several assaults on journalists covering the Charlottesville protests in Virginia.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker collects its data based on tips directly from journalists and its network of partner organizations, as well as general news reports. All tips are thoroughly vetted before being published on the site. Sterne said partner organizations will use the data collected by the tracker to write letters, prepare legal briefs and develop advocacy campaigns.
Initial funding for the project was provided by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). As part of his settlement for assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte contributed $50,000 to CPJ, which was then put toward this project.
Sterne said there is no timeline for how long the project will last.
“The plan is to keep doing it indefinitely. I always tell people I would be very happy if we could shut down the site tomorrow because there were no more incidents to report,” he said. “But as long as there are threats to press freedom in the U.S., we want to keep the site running.”