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First Draft launches nationwide project to help prepare US newsrooms for online threats ahead of 2020 election

Craig Newmark Philanthropies joins Google News Initiative in supporting organization’s mission to reach every journalist in every state

October 24, 2019 – As part of its global CrossCheck initiative, journalism non-profit First Draft announces a year-long, nationwide strategy for supporting the verification and reporting of online information relating to the 2020 US presidential election.

An April 2019 study found that only 15% of journalists at regional and national publications in the US have received training in how to combat the effects of false information. First Draft is setting out to fill this gap and reach every journalist in every state over the next year through on- and offline events and initiatives.

With a $1.5 million gift from Craig Newmark Philanthropies and renewed support from the Google News Initiative, First Draft will offer free training and technological support to help build newsroom resilience to manipulation campaigns. It will also aid collaboration between journalists who work at local, regional, and national levels. As efforts to mislead become increasingly prevalent and sophisticated, there are considerable benefits to newsrooms working together. Sharing information and pooling skills, resources and expertise can significantly reduce the duplication of work and aid in the rapid and coordinated response to escalating falsehoods. The collaborative CrossCheck model also provides an effective defense against campaigns seeking to undermine trust in media as participants can alert and support each other in real time when deliberate tactics are identified.

“For all of the talk since the 2016 election, many newsrooms have not been given the training and support they need to discover, verify and investigate content that emerges online, whether that's a manipulated image, a leaked document, a fake account, or an automated network,” said Claire Wardle, co-founder of First Draft. “These skills are urgently needed in newsrooms around the country, and that is why we are launching CrossCheck in the US.”

CrossCheck is an ongoing collaborative effort that promotes accurate information. In addition to equipping newsrooms to handle the complex disinformation issues that society faces, this strength-in-numbers approach also helps to counter the suppression of journalists and to ensure that diligent, responsible reporting is recognized.

The project was pioneered in France in 2017 by First Draft and the Google News Initiative. Prominent CrossCheck efforts have since launched around elections in Australia, Brazil, Nigeria and Spain, with members signed up to participate in the global network from 15 additional countries.

This wide-ranging expansion of CrossCheck to the US will:

  • Help newsrooms prepare to handle coordinated disinformation attacks via state-of-the-art simulated crisis events;
  • Train journalists in using the latest tools and techniques for conducting digital investigations;
  • Provide a platform for journalists, topic specialists, researchers and community leaders to work together to identify and verify concerning and disputed content, and develop strategies for informing the public;
  • Drive conversations on the journalistic ethics and principles of reporting on disinformation.

“Today’s technology contributes a lot to the common good, but it also does serious harm in amplifying and masking the spread of disinformation,” said Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist and Craig Newmark Philanthropies. “Many journalists and newsrooms want to tackle this issue head-on, but they don’t necessarily have the resources or expertise to do so—and that’s where First Draft comes in.”

The nascent election period has already seen a manipulated video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; a viral tweet connecting Beto O’Rourke to the shooter in Odessa, Texas; a call to boycott the Olive Garden restaurant chain based on false rumors that it is funding President Trump’s re-election campaign; a new network of websites launched by political consultants to look like local news coverage of the races on which they are working; and more.

These examples show that, in this digital age, journalists face urgent, evolving challenges during elections because they are more susceptible to hoaxes and deliberate manipulation. First Draft’s experience covering elections in Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Nigeria, Spain, the UK, and the US has shown that collaboration and communication are central to improving reporting and helping voters make informed choices.

"Attempts to disrupt democracy and divide nations during election periods come in many forms, and an effective response requires time, expertise, reach and resources. The threats are complex, and for those who are not fully immersed in monitoring online spaces, there is real benefit to connecting with and learning from others,” said Jenni Sargent, co-founder and managing director of First Draft. “By supporting newsrooms with fewer resources and working closely with communities across the country, we can limit scaremongering and properly engage the public.”

This extension of CrossCheck is a pillar of First Draft’s continued partnership with the Google News Initiative, which was a founding partner when First Draft launched as a coalition in 2015.

“We’re proud to support First Draft as they bring CrossCheck tools, training and simulation workshops to journalists across the United States,” said Matt Cooke, Head of Partnerships & Training at the Google News Lab. “As a founding partner, we’ve seen the benefit of their work across the world as they collaborate with journalists from Europe to Brazil to fight disinformation.”

Newsrooms can nominate their teams to become members of CrossCheck free-of-charge by completing an online form. As members, newsrooms will have access to training resources, monitoring tools, verification assistance, regular webinars, a database of previously crosschecked reports, and alerts for escalating content and claims.


Information for editors:

For more information and interview requests, please contact Tommy Shane, / +44 0777 2822902, or Aimee Rinehart, / +1 (917) 415 4694.


First Draft is announcing the US launch of its CrossCheck initiative, bringing together reporters and researchers in a collaborative network to investigate news-critical information on elections. As with CrossCheck initiatives in Australia, Brazil, France, Nigeria, and Spain, US journalists will gain access to the benefits for free. Journalists based in the US are invited to nominate their newsroom for membership to the network, and will receive:

  • Alerts and support around media manipulation
  • Training resources and regular webinars
  • A database of previously crosschecked reports on disinformation
  • Access to a global community of reporters and topic specialists
  • Collaborative investigations and content verification
  • Timely discussions on responsible handling of disinformation
  • Invitations to live simulations and regional meet-ups

Essential Guides

First Draft will be publishing a series of Essential Guides on disinformation, both as physical and digital booklets, which the organization will update throughout the year. Topics include the current state of information disorder, tips and advice on verification, online newsgathering and investigations, responsible reporting, online safety, and more.

Live Crisis Simulations

First Draft will conduct 14 live simulation events across the US that will immerse journalists in a disinformation crisis scenario. Informed by First Draft’s experience in reporting on and researching elections around the world, the simulations will ask selected journalists to ‘react’ to challenges posed by a fictional breaking news event.

First Draft is working in tandem with technology platforms and community leaders to focus the simulations and will hold two summits to help coordinate strategies for how to respond to disinformation crises over the next 12 months.

About First Draft

A global non-profit organization founded in 2015, First Draft exists to support those on the frontlines of digital journalism by providing practical guidance and training, informed by ongoing research and original reporting.

Visit and @firstdraftnews on Twitter.

About Craig Newmark Philanthropies

Craig Newmark Philanthropies was created by craigslist founder Craig Newmark to support and connect people and drive broad civic engagement. It works to advance people and grassroots organizations that are getting stuff done in areas that include trustworthy journalism & the information ecosystem, voter protection, gender diversity in technology, and veterans & military families. For more information, please visit:

About Google News Initiative

The Google News Initiative is Google’s effort to help journalism thrive in the digital age through evolving business models to drive sustainable growth, elevating quality journalism and empowering news organizations with new technology.