Inside the new $65 million push from progressives to compete with conservative media

Inside the new $65 million push from progressives to compete with conservative media

2021-02-23 22:33:48

A prominent Democratic strategist is planning a new $ 65 million effort to spread progressive local news in the United States as part of an effort to emulate the dominance of right-wing media, Recode has learned.

The organization, whose founding has not been previously reported, is called the Project for Good Information (BGA). It is created by Tara McGowan, a Democratic strategist who has worked at her current organization, Acronym, for the past few years to encourage her party to fight far-right media with liberal content. She has fans include influential Democrats and donors, it has also drawn controversy from it journalistic groups concerned that her advocacy is posing as unbiased media, as well as some fellow Democrats worried she could push the envelope too far.

However, McGowan's new group makes it clear that some progressives are willing to redouble its strategy. Her allies say she is one of the few Democrats willing to fight fire with fire. But BGA wants to "restore social trust" in the media, and its critics argue that ideological premises will only erode that further and make the information wars even more messy.

This time, however, McGowan tries to cut the partisan ties haunted her earlier journalistic plays, including Courier Newsroom, which will support its new organization. According to people familiar with the new structure, the idea is to continue creating a media ecosystem without the ties between those outlets and a political organization like Acronym, Courier's current financier. However, an ongoing challenge will be how to position the outlets as impartial, given McGowan's background.

“Traditional media are inadequate. Disinformation is flourishing. It's time for a new kind of media, ”reads the bold, capitalized text at the beginning of a two-page BGA marketing memo obtained by Recode.

“Recognizing that successful investment in good online information requires trust that must exist outside of politics or bias,” the document reads after recalling McGowan's work at Acronym, “BGA is an evolution of those efforts to explore the deeper address structural issues that contributed to Trump's election and will make him survive in defeat. "

McGowan declined to comment.

The new push will consist of two entities, according to the document: a 501 (c) (3) public foundation called the Good Information Project, which will grant money to non-profit media companies, and a public utility (called a B Corp). named Good Information Inc., which will invest in for-profit media companies.

Company records in Washington, DC indicate that a prominent Democratic attorney previously involved in McGowan's political work recorded the Good Information Project in early February.

McGowan is seeking to raise $ 65 million for the effort this year, with $ 35 million for the investment arm, $ 25 million for the foundation and the remaining $ 5 million for a two-year operating budget, Recode has learned. Acronym and its affiliate groups have had previous success raising money from prominent Democratic donors in Silicon Valley, including LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and venture capitalist Mike Moritz. Former Barack Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, who has his own ties to the Silicon Valley donor world, also advises Acronym.

McGowan has been a controversial figure in Democratic politics since news surfaced about the link between Acronym and Shadow, the startup responsible for screwing up the 2020 Democratic Iowa caucuses. McGowan's new effort will no doubt raise a new set of big questions about the future of the Democratic media – and what rules of the road progressives should pay attention to in the post-Trump era.

“BGA is building a new media ecosystem to meet the urgency of the moment. By incubating, investing in and scaling ideas that not only serve the common good but also drive innovation in content distribution and business models, PGI builds a portfolio of media properties to consume the way our society values and exchanges radically and quickly improve. information on the internet ”, reads the marketing memo.

In the run-up to the 2020 elections Acronym also planned to invest $ 25 million in a progressive news effort called Courier Newsroom, which set up eight different websites with seemingly unbiased, homey names such as "UpNorth News" in Wisconsin and "Keystone" in Pennsylvania. The publications regularly featured Democratic candidates, and Courier spent millions promoting the articles in Facebook ads. While courier websites note that they are heavily backed by the progressive organization, critics felt that the revelations were insufficient and that the editorial teams functioned more like a branch of the Democratic Party than a traditional publication, which further clouds the waters for consumers looking for unbiased information. Acronym has said that Courier is "factually and transparently progressive".

McGowan and her defenders have said Democrats have relinquished this information war to Sean Hannity and Breitbart for too long. If partisan news does exist, it is thought, Democrats should offer their own news instead of relying on non-partisan media outlets to try to counter the right's disinformation machine. McGowan has been a particularly harsh critic of Facebook, who she claims was too soft on the conservative media crack at progressive outlets like Courier

Courier, which now employs approximately 70 people, is expected to grow thanks to an investment from PGI's B company. It is unclear whether Acronym will sell its ownership interest in Courier to the new group, or what the wider future holds.

PGI's first investment in this arena will be to help scale up Courier Newsroom, a network of 8 local online properties that reach subgroups of Americans most vulnerable to disinformation with local, values-driven news and content designed specifically for their social news feeds, mobile apps and email inboxes, ”the BGA document reads.

McGowan has acknowledged that the criticism of the previous structure – in which Acronym largely (but not entirely) owned Courier – was & # 39; fair & # 39; and that a new, impartial structure was needed to protect Courier's journalists from allegations of political bias. The document refers to McGowan as “a former campaign strategist”.

“For Courier to be truly successful, it is very important that over time it is no longer affiliated with any political organization or entity. We haven't made any decisions about that yet, but I think there is a lot of honest criticism that we think about and think about, & # 39; & # 39; McGowan said an interview with Fast Company published in December.

“We need new business models,” said McGowan of what a Courier revamp would look like. Now she's trying to raise $ 65 million to make that happen in the Wild West, today's modern media.


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