Meet the Project for Good Information, the left’s new $ 65 million investment in information warfare

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

The organization, whose training was not previously reported, is called the Project for Good Information (PGI). It is created by Tara McGowan, a Democratic strategist who has spent the last few years at her current organization, Acronym, trying to encourage her party to counter far-right media with liberal content. She has fans among Democrats and influential donors, but also sparked controversy journalism groups concerned that its advocacy efforts masquerade as impartial media, as well as some fellow Democrats who fear that it will push the envelope too far.

McGowan’s new group makes it clear, however, that some progressives are willing to double down on his strategy. Her allies say she is one of the few Democrats who want to fight fire with fire. But PGI wants to “restore social trust” in the media, and its critics argue that the ideological media only erodes this even more and makes information wars even more messy.

This time, however, McGowan attempts to cut the partisan ties that have held his previous journalism pieces, including Courier Newsroom, which its new organization will support. The idea, according to people familiar with the new structure, is to continue to create a media ecosystem without the links between these media and a political organization like Acronym, the current backer of Courier. A lingering challenge, however, will be how to position outlets as non-partisan given McGowan’s experience.

“Traditional media fail. Disinformation is on the rise. It’s time to embrace a new kind of media, ”reads the bold, all-caps text at the start of a two-page marketing memo for PGI obtained by Recode.

“Recognizing that a successful investment in good online information requires a trust that must exist outside of politics or party spirit,” the paper read after recalling McGowan’s work at Acronym, “ PGI is an evolution of those efforts to tackle the deeper structural issues that contributed to Trump’s election. and will survive him in defeat.

McGowan declined to comment.

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

Company records in Washington, DC, show that a high-profile Democratic lawyer previously involved in McGowan’s political work incorporated the Good Information Project in early February.

McGowan is trying 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, has learned Recode. Acronym and its affiliated groups have already successfully raised funds from major 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 community, also advises Acronym.

McGowan has been a controversial figure in Democratic politics since news of Acronym’s connection to Shadow, the startup responsible for screw up the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses. McGowan’s new effort is sure to raise a new round of general questions about the future of Democratic media – and the rules of the road progressives should abide by in the post-Trump era.

“PGI is building a new media ecosystem to respond to the urgency of this moment. By incubating, investing in and scaling ideas that not only serve the public good, but that drive innovation in content distribution and business models, PGI builds a portfolio of media properties to radically improve and quickly how our society values, consumes and trades. information on the Internet, ”the marketing memo read.

As the 2020 elections approach, Acronym also plans to invest $ 25 million in a progressive news effort. called Courier Newsroom, which has set up eight different websites with seemingly non-partisan and artisanal names such as “UpNorth News” in Wisconsin and “Keystone” in Pennsylvania. The posts regularly cast a favorable light on Democratic candidates, and Courier spent millions promoting the articles in Facebook ads. While Courier’s websites note that they are heavily supported by the progressive organization, critics felt that disclosures were insufficient and newsrooms functioned more as an arm of the Democratic Party than a traditional publication, further confusing consumers looking for unbiased information. Acronym said Courier is “factual and progressive in a transparent manner”.

McGowan and his supporters said that Democrats have ceded this information war to Sean Hannity and Breitbart for too long. If partisan news is to exist, the thought argues Democrats should offer theirs instead of depending on non-partisan media to try and counter the right-wing disinformation machine. McGowan has been a particularly harsh critic of Facebook, which she says has been too gentle on conservative media while crack down on progressive outlets like Courier.

Courier, which now has around 70 people in its newsroom, is expected to grow thanks to an investment from PGI’s Company B. It’s unclear whether Acronym will sell its stake in Courier to the new group, or what its future holds in a broader sense.

“PGI’s first investment in this area will be to help scale Courier Newsroom, a network of 8 local online properties that reach out to subgroups of Americans most vulnerable to disinformation through news and local, values-driven content developed specifically for their social news feeds, mobile apps and emails, ”the PGI document reads.

McGowan acknowledged that criticisms of the previous structure – in which Acronym largely (but not completely) owned Courier – were “fair” and that a new non-partisan structure was needed to protect Courier reporters from accusations 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 not affiliated with any organization or political entity. We haven’t made a decision on this yet, but I think there’s a lot of fair criticism that we ponder and think about, ”McGowan said in an interview with Fast Company published in December.

“We need new business models,” McGowan said of what a Courier redesign would look like. Now she’s trying to raise $ 65 million to make this happen in the Old West which is modern media today.

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