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2019 Online Commentary finalist

Free Press

About the Project

As summer progressed in 2018, President Trump intensified his withering attacks on the press. “Fake News,” “Enemy of the People,” and other violent monikers exploded from his sizable pulpit to millions of followers. A mass shooting at the Capital Gazette newsroom had brought no respite from the onslaught. What’s more, data reviewed by the Globe showed skepticism growing among Americans over the role of media, a literal degradation of the First Amendment happening before our eyes.

The Globe’s editorial page felt it was time to speak out – not in any partisan or political sense, but rather to let readers know the importance of a free press to the role of democracy. The problem, of course, was that one voice in such a crowded landscape would hardly make a difference. But hundreds of voices, in unison? That message would be heard.

The Globe reached out to hundreds of editorial boards across the country, asking them to join us in a call to support a free press. At first, we were unsure whether anyone would respond, but the replies came in droves. The Globe didn’t set any editorial parameters – every paper was invited simply to write a piece reflecting its particular viewpoint and a message tailored to its community. The only thing we insisted on was that the theme be around the importance of a free press, and that we all publish on the same date.

While we didn’t enforce any editorial guidelines, we did bring the project together under one collective message. We knew that such a widespread collection of editorials faced a danger of being lost in a disparate flow of links across the Internet. So we went to work on a plan to unify the message of editorial boards around the country that included:

  • A landing page where we accumulated links to every editorial published. The editorials were filtered by state and name of the paper, to allow readers to both see the totality of the effort and dive down to an individual publication.
  • A video editorial outlining why we organized the effort.
  • A robust, multichannel social media campaign organized around the hashtag #FreePress and peppered with motion graphics and visualizations that we shared with other newsrooms.
  • Live video chats with readers about the importance of a free press.
  • The campaign had an immediate impact, finally forcing discussion of the importance of a free press to the level of national discourse. The Globe received plenty of blowback – including a flurry of death threats levied at our journalists – but the message stood strong. The most rewarding part was the testimonies from hundreds of editorial boards who penned thoughtful, personal pieces to their communities, many of whom courageously took up the call in the heart of Trump Country. These boards reminded their readers that they were not enemies, but rather colleagues, neighbors, friends, and even family. Through a national movement, we helped foster discourse at a local – and meaningful – level.