A foundation dedicated to promoting and funding transparency journalism, which launched on December 16, has concluded its first round of funding for organizations. It has enjoyed incredible success and found there are a lot of people who want to support this kind of an organization.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) raised nearly $200,000 for four different organizations, including WikiLeaks, which it collected donations to support because the media organization faces a banking blockade that makes it difficult for it to directly accept funds from supporters.

According to Trevor Timm, a co-founder of FPF, $82,000 was donated to WikiLeaks. Three other organizations—The Uptake, a media group that encourages democracy and transparency; MuckRock News, an organization that makes it easy for individuals and organizations to submit FOIA requests, the National Security Archive, an investigative journalism center that maintains a library of declassified government documents. Each received approximately $15,500, $16,000 and $18,000 in donations respectively.

The average donation has been around $100. Donors have also chosen to donate over $40,000 to the foundation itself, which Timm told Firedoglake will go toward handing out prizes or grants at the end of the year that can be used to fund organizations engaged in innovative transparency journalism projects.

FPF is co-founded by Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, John Perry Barlow, a former lyricist for the Grateful Dead who co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Rainey Reitman, a founder and steering committee member for the Bradley Manning Support Network. Also on the Board of Directors is writer Glenn Greenwald, actor John Cusack, Journalism and Public Media Campaign Director at Free Press, Josh Stearns, documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, and Xeni Jardin, founding partner and co-editor of Boing Boing.

The goal of FPF is to not only make it possible for WikiLeaks to remain operational but to also inspire new WikiLeaks-like organizations to form and resist government and corporate pressures that currently constrain journalism. The foundation bundled organizations for about a month and a half and made it possible for individuals to split their donation among four organizations.

The next “bundle” of organizations are all launching projects around United States government secrecy. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has become notable for its work counting US drone strikes, is starting a project to name those killed by drones. It will track who is a civilian and who is a militant in order to make it harder for propaganda to spread. The organization intends to setup a website for documenting people who are attacked.

Truthout.org is sending investigative reporter Jason Leopold to cover the Guantanamo military commission all year. He has developed a reputation for writing detailed reports on the Guantanamo Bay prison through the use of records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. FPF considers Guantanamo to be the source of some of the biggest “secrecy controversies” (for example, the outside body found to have the power to censor proceedings last week). He will be highlighting future issues involving secrecy in his work.
The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) has a mapping defense spending project it intends to launch. The project will hopefully show what the Pentagon is funding, whether contracts are no-bid and how the defense budget has ballooned since the September 11th attacks. It will examine what CPI calls the “gift economy” by exploring the relationships between defense contractors and lawmakers.
In a press release from the foundation, Christopher Hird, managing editor of TBIJ, said the Bureau was “excited” to have FPF supporting their work as it works to develop “public interest journalism.” CPI’s executive director Bill Buzenberg said, “As an independent investigative news organization, the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Public Integrity depends on individuals and foundations for virtually all of its support. I am very pleased that the Freedom of Press Foundation is helping us by drawing in crowd-funding for our National Security investigative projects.”
For those who donate, Timm said Cusack will be matching the first $10,000 donated. Also, the Sunlight Foundation has awarded FPF an operational seed grant of $10,000 that makes it possible for the foundation to pay all its operating costs for the rest of the year. That means all donations to the foundation will go toward to grants that can be awarded to projects at the end of the year.’
Cusack said, “I hope this matching donation will encourage small and large donors alike to support transparency journalism. We want this Foundation to be part of a broad-based movement to restore and protect press freedom. It’s up to the public to bring transparency to the government if the government won’t bring it to them.”

The success has shown there is broad-based support for this type of organization. It also has brought attention to groups that lacked the Internet presence of an organization like WikiLeaks. Timm said donors had come to donate to WikiLeaks and found out about the National Security Archive, MuckRock and The UpTake and chosen to donate to those organizations as well.

The foundation is part of a “new vanguard for press freedom” that “takes into account the digital age and how different organizations can operate on the Internet,” Timm added.

The government fully intends to maintain the culture of secrecy in government. Congressional leaders do not wish to challenge this culture, as evidenced by the fact that it reauthorized the FISA Amendemnts Act in December without any amendments that would have required secret court rulings to be disclosed.

The courts are reluctant to make rulings that discourage government secrecy. A judge ruled in an ACLU lawsuit filed to force the release of the legal basis for US drone strikes that it was within the government’s rights to keep the legal basis for this program that is likely unconstitutional concealed from the public.

In government, the FBI is now known to be targeting the communications of government employees who have corresponded with journalists. The FBI claims it is investigating the source of leaks on cyber warfare last year but the investigation is a fishing expedition that imperils the free speech rights of employees.

The work of the foundation encourages reporters to not just engage in journalism but go a step further and take steps to fight for greater government transparency. And the foundation has adopted a privacy policy that makes it difficult to target Americans who choose to donate to WikiLeaks. (Data can be deleted soon after a person donates money.)

The Justice Department has mounted a wide criminal investigation into WikiLeaks. It fully intends to continue to go after the organization’s editor-in-chief Julian Assange and other staffers of the organization. WikiLeaks also faces the problem of rebuilding trust in public so potential sources feel comfortable submitting documents to the organization without fear of being caught. Simultaneously, any publication of sensitive information on national security matters that reflects poorly on the government induces hysteria and frenzy in the halls of power. With that in mind, FPF has taken a bold step to create space so organizations essential to the public’s right to know and pushes for accountability can operate in society.