US Press Freedom Tracker
The US PFT is a digital database used to track press freedom related incidents was created as a collaboration between Freedom of the Press Foundation and The Committee to Protect Journalists. The goal of the project is to leverage data to advance press freedom advocacy.
As research lead I led a thorough qualitative effort to ensure the tool encompassed various attributes of press freedom infringements and better represented trends in the data. See the tool live here.
The very first database for press freedom incidents
“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.” - Alex Ellerbeck, Program Coordinator
Filters for complex attributes
There is a long list of challenges that affect journalists while they are in the field - and every incident comes with its own differentiating aspects. In order to make the data useful, and establish patterns of abuse, these aspects must be reflected in the tool. I presented this information to the UI designers and worked with them to incorporate a rich filtering module into the site.
Allowing journalists to self-report
Many lawyers and advocates I spoke with were distressed by the fear that more incidents undermining press freedom in the US were happening than they had the time to track or uncover. They also indicated that being able to prove a pattern of abuse would favorably change the outcome of many rulings. I recommended to stakeholders that they include a simple reporting form to encourage further data collection.
Before the creation of the US Press Freedom Tracker there was no centralized tool for the aggregation of this data - and many people needed access it - which meant that the very existence of this tool is a big success. We never needed to ask if we were building the right thing and work remained focused.
Collect data, but assess efficacy
While the incident reporting form adds value for journalists, it also increases administrative burden for the site administrators. Next steps to improve the tool should involve an audit evaluating how many reports are coming in, at what speed they are processed, and whether this additional work is contributing to the mission of the site in a significant way.