This campaign got some attention because it garnered the support of very famous people like Ben Stiller, Mariska Hargitay, Téa Leoni, Los Angeles Clipper J.J. Redick and Steve Kerr, coach of the Golden State Warriors, who has a truly alarming number of unread emails.
— Steve Kerr (@SteveKerr) February 1, 2017
But the overall effort pushing it into the Twitter maelstrom included not just actors and sports stars but authors, journalists and many, many others. So we were curious about where it came from and how it got started.
People involved in the effort say it began with a sprawling private message thread on Twitter that included a number of journalists as well as people working in sports, entertainment and other fields. This was spearheaded by Jordan Brenner of Bleacher Report, who tweeted about it Thursday morning, which gave way to high-profile figures in media and entertainment chiming in.
— Ben Stiller (@RedHourBen) February 1, 2017
— Mariska Hargitay (@Mariska) February 1, 2017
— Rosie Perez (@rosieperezbklyn) February 1, 2017
Allison Glock, an author and magazine writer who works for ESPN, said she was added to the chain on Sunday, describing it as people “concerned about the current cultural and political climate, mostly concerned about what’s happening with the press and the demonizing of the press, which we don’t even think is a partisan issue.” (Unsurprisingly, tweets about supporting news outlets were quickly joined on the hashtag by messages criticizing the media.)
Glock, in a telephone interview Wednesday, emphasized that the #PressOn campaign “wasn’t a partisan effort,” but was instead aimed at something she described as useful for everyone: “Keeping the press empowered, stable, free, servicing facts and not agenda.”
While tweets from journalists involved in the campaign and celebrities endorsing it did not mention him by name, looming over this effort was the nascent presidency of Donald Trump. Trump has long targeted journalists for criticism, and since taking office both he and his chief strategist have labeled the media “the opposition party.”
The relationship between Trump and the media was brittle during the presidential contest, when his campaign banned multiple news organizations (including this one). Since then, it might actually have worsened.
During his transition, Trump lashed out at numerous news outlets and, since taking office, he and his administration have pushed a number of falsehoods. That has been coupled with specific criticisms of the news media and a refusal to acknowledge publicly available facts while peddling further misleading or inaccurate statements.
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, called reporters in on Trump’s first full day of office to offer false claims about crowd size and Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser, followed that by claiming Spicer merely offered “alternate facts.” Both of them, along with Trump, have sought to justify the administration’s sweeping travel restrictions by invoking terrorist attacks on U.S. soil that the entry ban wouldn’t have prevented.
Trump’s self-described “war with the media” and his administration’s pliable relationship with accuracy has prompted journalists to adjust their approach to covering a presidential administration. In a message sent to staff on Tuesday, Steve Adler, editor in chief of Reuters, wrote that his outlet would have to avoid picking unnecessary fights and “give up on hand-outs and worry less about official access.”
For others, including many who work in media, they saw an opportunity to encourage more people to pay to keep journalism afloat. Since the presidential campaign, news organizations including The Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal reported upticks in their subscriptions, while ProPublica said it had a surge in donations.
It was not clear how much direct impact the #PressOn campaign was having on subscriber numbers Wednesday. A Washington Post spokeswoman said that the company does not disclose subscriber numbers. Hillary Manning, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Times, said the publication had “experienced a meaningful uptick in new digital subscriptions” on Wednesday.
“Seeing the support for a free and fair press from people across social media platforms has been fantastic,” Manning wrote in an email. “We hope that they continue to inspire people to subscribe and support quality, independent journalism.”
A spokesman for Condé Nast, which publishes the New Yorker and Teen Vogue, two publications that were cited in #PressOn tweets, said he was looking to see if more numbers were available. (We will update this post if they provide them.) A spokeswoman for the New York Times said that due to a lag in their system, they would not know Wednesday’s figures “for at least a few days,” though she noted that “in recent weeks, we’ve seen a surge of new subscriptions.” Despite Trump’s tweet last weekend that the publication has “dwindling subscribers,” the Times has reported a spike in subscribers multiple times since the election, and more numbers are expected to be released Thursday when the Times announces its earnings for the last quarter.
Brett Michael Dykes, the editor in chief of Uproxx and another participant in the message chain that birthed the #PressOn hashtag, said that he hopes it reminds people that good journalism is “easy to take for granted, but it doesn’t pay for itself.”
“It’s important because journalism, facts, and truth are under attack like they’ve rarely been in U.S. history,” he wrote in a message to The Post. “So it’s important that the journalistic institutions that are under attack, both big and small, get the financial support they need to continue to thrive in a challenging time, a time where they’re most needed.”
Tanya Sichynsky and Ric Sanchez contributed to this report.