Non-profit

Courier Newsroom

Website:

couriernewsroom.com

Location:

Washington, DC

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(4)

Formation:

2017

CEO:

Tara McGowan

Courier Newsroom is a partisan media project that supports liberal politics and Democratic political candidates while appearing to be state-level independent news outlets. Left-leaning donors supported the Democratic digital politics network ACRONYM to bypass traditional online advertising tactics by utilizing news sites that claim to be local news outlets. The sites are focused on politically competitive “swing states” including Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. [1]

Acronym has received criticism from even left-leaning publications, with one writing that “there are some real serious concerns if a political group if funding an outlet that doesn’t disclose this connection.” [2]

History

In 2017, Tara McGowan, a Democratic political operative, founder of the Courier Newsroom, and head of the ACRONYM network, wrote the research paper “Rethinking Investing in Media to Build Political Power” that highlighted her reasoning for creating the Courier Newsroom service. McGowan argued that President Donald Trump was more of an “effective communicator than Democrats realized,” having reached several “underserved populations” through Facebook and Twitter. While the Courier Newsroom services target specific states like Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin, as a traditional hometown service, they are not local. The purpose of the Courier Newsroom is to target specific demographic audiences and claim to be a hometown local newspaper targeting ads to voters. [3]

The first service to launch with this new approach under the Courier Newsroom was the Virginia Dogwood, followed by the Copper Courier in Arizona. Copying the look of a local newspaper, with the goal of building familiarity and trust, Courier Newsroom news sites are continually gathering data on the people visiting their sites that is then fed in turn back to Acronym. [4]

In an initial trial run, the Virginia Dogwood was seen as the first test of the Courier Newsroom’s platform for supporting Democratic candidates. In November of 2019, Virginia held statewide elections and the Virginia Dogwood published multiple articles to push traditional Democratic voters to go to the polls and vote. Articles focused heavily on state elections, and how readers could volunteer for campaigns. The service even provided automatic calendar reminders for key deadlines. To increase Virginia Dogwood’s outreach, the organization spent almost $275,000 in Facebook ads through election week. [5]

Courier Newsroom runs three ostensible “local newsrooms,” the Copper Courier in Arizona, the Dogwood in Virginia, and UpNorthNews in Wisconsin. [6]

Activities

In 2019, a Daily Beast investigation into the operations of Courier Newsroom revealed a chaotic financial layout between ACRONYM and Courier Newsroom. The investigation showed that the Democratic Party of Virginia paid Lockwood Strategy, founded by Tara McGowan, $150,000 for digital consulting and advertising. The payment came after Acronym announced financial backing the Courier Newsroom project Virginia Dogwood. As investigated by the Daily Beast, three Acronym employees submitted articles to the Dogwood in Virginia. The Dogwood publication also apparently closely resembled the Democratic Party of Virginia’s talking points.  Lockwood Strategy was hiring journalists in five swing states at the same time, Courier Newsroom also began to hire for journalists in those same five swing states. [7]

In 2019, Lindsay Schrupp, editor in chief for Courier Newsroom, said, “We try to be completely transparent.” Schrupp conceded that her organization publishes content with “a progressive vision of the subjects.” [8]

ACRONYM has hired staffers intending to “topple Trump in 2020.” The group’s strategy involves a combination of content creation and ad buying, all under one roof. Courier Newsrooms have been created to generate content favorable to the Democratic Party; instead of content being shared from a traditional news source, ACRONYM’s strategies use Courier Newsroom to “counter the rightwing offerings from entities such as Breitbart.” [9]

In November of 2019, after Google imposed restrictions on political ads, and Facebook hinted at similar actions related to political ads, Courier Newsroom doubled down on efforts to expand its advertising campaigns. McGowan has received criticism from both the left and right for how Courier Newsroom operates, with critics alleging that some of her operation is “driven by political agendas intended to manipulate unwitting readers.” [10] McGowan rejects those claims stating “people I respect will see this media company as an affront to journalistic integrity because it won’t, in their eyes, be balanced.” Despite criticisms the reason for Courier Newsrooms is because “balance doesn’t exist anymore.” With her new journalistic venture, Ms. McGowan has moved to attract millionaires and billionaires to support Courier Newsroom. [11]

With her new journalistic venture, McGowan has moved to attract millionaires and billionaires to support Courier Newsroom. [12] ACRONYM has been connected to LinkedIn founder and liberal activist Reid Hoffman. [13] ACRONYM investors include Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams. [14] Additional Investors to ACRONYM include Michael Dubin, founder of Dollar Shave Club; former CEO of SoulCycle Elizabeth Cutler; and Carly Roney, founder of The Knot. [15] ACRONYM has also been supported by Giffords PAC, NextGen Climate Action Committee, and the House Majority PAC. [16]

References

  1. “Need to Know: Dec. 3, 2019.” American Press Institute, December 3, 2019. https://www.americanpressinstitute.org/need-to-know/need-to-know-dec-3-2019/. ^
  2. “SLUDGE REPORT: Pay-to-Play Ambassadorships.” Sludge. Accessed January 28, 2020. https://readsludge.com/2019/12/03/pay-to-play-ambassadorships/. ^
  3. Green, Joshua. “The Left’s Plan to Slip Vote-Swaying News Into Facebook Feeds.” BloombergQuint, 30 Nov. 2019, www.bloombergquint.com/businessweek/acronym-s-newsrooms-are-a-liberal-digital-spin-on-local-news. ^
  4. Green, Joshua. “The Left’s Plan to Slip Vote-Swaying News Into Facebook Feeds.” BloombergQuint, 30 Nov. 2019, www.bloombergquint.com/businessweek/acronym-s-newsrooms-are-a-liberal-digital-spin-on-local-news. ^
  5. Green, Joshua. “The Left’s Plan to Slip Vote-Swaying News Into Facebook Feeds.” BloombergQuint, 30 Nov. 2019, www.bloombergquint.com/businessweek/acronym-s-newsrooms-are-a-liberal-digital-spin-on-local-news. ^
  6. CHRIS RICKERT. “With 2020 in Sight, Dark-Money Sites Look to Distribute Their Versions of the News.” Wiscnews.com, January 4, 2020. https://www.wiscnews.com/news/state-and-regional/with-in-sight-dark-money-sites-look-to-distribute-their/article_6be41ff7-ae1b-53a7-9ebd-aa04526ec813.html. ^
  7. Markay, Lachlan. “How a Dem Dark-Money Group Is Invading the News.” The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast Company, November 22, 2019. https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-a-dem-dark-money-group-is-invading-the-news. ^
  8. France 24. “Des Sites D’info Locale Fleurissent Aux Etats-Unis, Financés Par Des Mouvements Politiques.” France 24. France 24, December 13, 2019. https://www.france24.com/fr/20191213-des-sites-d-info-locale-fleurissent-aux-etats-unis-financés-par-des-mouvements-politiques. ^
  9. Rickert, Chris, and Wisconsin State Journal. “With 2020 in Sight, Dark-Money Sites Look to Distribute Their Versions of the News.” madison.com, January 4, 2020. https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/govt-and-politics/with-in-sight-dark-money-sites-look-to-distribute-their/article_4b472142-cea3-53e8-b617-1903e3177c42.html. ^
  10. Green, Joshua. “The Left’s Plan to Slip Vote-Swaying News Into Facebook Feeds.” BloombergQuint, 30 Nov. 2019, www.bloombergquint.com/businessweek/acronym-s-newsrooms-are-a-liberal-digital-spin-on-local-news. ^
  11. Green, Joshua. “The Left’s Plan to Slip Vote-Swaying News Into Facebook Feeds.” BloombergQuint, November 30, 2019. https://www.bloombergquint.com/businessweek/acronym-s-newsrooms-are-a-liberal-digital-spin-on-local-news. ^
  12. Green, Joshua. “The Left’s Plan to Slip Vote-Swaying News Into Facebook Feeds.” BloombergQuint, November 30, 2019. https://www.bloombergquint.com/businessweek/acronym-s-newsrooms-are-a-liberal-digital-spin-on-local-news. ^
  13. “The Divisive Democratic Operative behind Shadow, the App That Broke Iowa.” POLITICO. Accessed February 10, 2020. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/02/05/angry-democrats-unload-operative-over-iowa-caucus-results-110807. ^
  14. “The Divisive Democratic Operative behind Shadow, the App That Broke Iowa.” POLITICO. Accessed February 10, 2020. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/02/05/angry-democrats-unload-operative-over-iowa-caucus-results-110807. ^
  15. Green, Joshua. “The Left’s Plan to Slip Vote-Swaying News Into Facebook Feeds.” BloombergQuint, November 30, 2019. https://www.bloombergquint.com/businessweek/acronym-s-newsrooms-are-a-liberal-digital-spin-on-local-news. ^
  16. “Browse Disbursements.” FEC.gov. Accessed February 10, 2020. https://www.fec.gov/data/disbursements/?data_type=processed&recipient_name=acronym&two_year_transaction_period=2020&min_date=01/01/2016&max_date=12/31/2020. ^

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Tara McGowan
    Founder, CEO
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Courier Newsroom


Washington, DC