Earlier this month, Muckrock, an organization that promotes investigative journalism, created a channel on group messaging service Slack for reporters who want to use Muckrock’s expertise in prying information from state, local, and federal governments.
Initially, interest was limited. But this week, reporters started signing up to the channel in droves.
“We expected a few dozen people and we have over 3,000. We’re backlogged,” Muckrock co-founder Michael Morisy told Fortune on Friday.
For non-techies, Slack acts as a sort of news feed for groups. Members can post post questions, notes, photographs, and documents, and ask for feedback. They can also conduct private one-on-one chats.
It seems clear that the growing interest in the channel was driven by the increasingly contentious relationship between the President Donald Trump’s administration and the media. On Thursday, news site Poynter.org reported that Muckrock’s Slack channel had 1,500 members, up from 250 the day before. A day later, requests had doubled.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Wednesday was when chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon characterized the media as “the opposition party” and said it should “keep its mouth shut.”
The relationship between the media and government tends to be rocky and, to be fair, the administration of Barack Obama was no paragon in this regard. But Trump and company have taken things to a whole new level, Morisy said.
“Obama’ s treatment of whistle blowers and his promises to bring transparency fell short in many serious ways. But now you have a president and White House that don’t even pretend to value a free and open press,” Morisy said.
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Also worrisome is the new administration’s ties with venture capitalist Peter Thiel, Morisy noted. Thiel bankrolled Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Media, which effectively put that company out of business.
The new administration has also told employees of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior and other agencies to stop sharing information publicly.
The message for journalists, according to Morisy, is that now is no time to ease up on reporting. Muckrock hopes to help reporters get access to the records they need to do investigative reports and the Slack channel is one tool of many.
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Muckrock, a Cambridge, Mass.-based non profit, was founded seven years ago by Morisy and Mitchell Kotler, a Cornell University classmate. Since then it has filed or helped file 26,000 requests for government-held information. It gets funding from small donors and has received grants from The Knight Foundation and the Arnold Foundation.
The Arnold grant is funding a project to build a guide to the public records laws in all 50 states.
“I hope we can help journalists break some great stories,” Morisy said.