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Note to Readers: On the Twitter Files Winning The Dao Prize
Special thanks are due to Racket's subscribers and contributors, after the Twitter Files reports win the first Dao Prize, a $100,000 award for "truth-seeking journalism."
Last night at the National Press Club in Washington, in the past known more as the home of the increasingly incestuous Correspondent’s Dinner, the National Journalism Center of the Young America’s Foundation awarded Bari Weiss, Michael Shellenberger, and me the inaugural Dao Prize for Excellence in Investigative Journalism, which comes with a substantial award of $100,000. Having been accused of monetizing this story, I’ll be making an announcement soon about where my share of the financial prize will be re-directed. In the meantime, I wanted to say a few words of thanks to subscribers and colleagues.
The Twitter Files were a unique project with ongoing consequences (Racket has a new story based on the files by Sue Schmidt that will be coming out as soon as I return from Washington). They came about because of a fluke, one-in-a-billion situation, in which an eccentric CEO decided to blow the whistle on his own newly acquired company for a variety of reasons, one of which was disappointment with the legacy press. The reporters chosen for the job, principally Bari Weiss, Michael Shellenberger and me to begin with, were all independent contributors on Substack.
Because Elon Musk’s requirement that news from the Files be broken on his Twitter (since renamed X) platform, accepting the job meant our subscribers had to make a sacrifice. It’s moreover true that because the Files required a drop-everything approach, only those of us who’d already built up enough subscriber support to afford a long research detour could consider accepting. This is a long-winded way of expressing gratitude to subscribers for hanging in and volunteering to be part of that odd experiment in burning bridges on a broad scale. It was a lot of fun to go through that with all of you.
I want to say also that there were a number of people from Racket who put in a lot of extra work last winter and weren’t recognized for it. The site’s manager, Emily Bivens, came with me for most every trip to San Francisco and was instrumental in helping not only me but the other reporters in organizing and archiving the materials, while also contributing to the reports themselves. Emily, for instance, was the first to find a key Slack exchange, in which a marketing executive asks if it’s okay to say Twitter combats misinfo through “partnerships with outside experts,” only to have wry executive Nick Pickles reply, “Not sure we'd describe the FBI/DHS as experts, or some NGOs that aren’t academic.” That was our first glimpse into what became the key angle on the story, about Twitter’s unnatural relationship to spy agencies and not-quite-nongovernmental nongovernmental organizations.
Other Racket contributors played important roles, for which they got little credit. Matt Orfalea, known for his acerbic, hyper-kinetic videos, worked extremely hard on several of the Twitter Files threads, including especially #21 (about the internal Twitter Files study on Russian bot activity, called “Project Osprey) but also the Christmas Eve story, “Twitter and Other Government Agencies.” Racket readers know about the contributions of people like Andrew Lowenthal, Matt Farwell, Tom Wyatt, Techno_Fog, Aaron Mate, and Sue Schmidt, who contributed to the “Censorship-Industrial Complex” report, but we also asked a lot of people like illustrator Daniel Medina, proofreaders Jane Burn and Anne Marie Brown, and FOIA writer UndeadFOIA, who continues to file requests on the topic, among others.
Some of the other contestants who were up for last night’s award and received calls from the likes of T. Becket Adams and Emily Jashinsky of the National Journalism Center were working on material closely related to the Twitter Files. In particular, Miranda Devine of the New York Post (whose suppressed report on Hunter Biden’s laptop prompted the first Twitter Files release) and Gabe Kaminsky of the Washington Examiner, who wrote on the state-sponsored organizations performing digital blacklisting services, did and continue to do stories that pull at the same threads as the Twitter Files reports. There’s nothing more satisfying to work on a thing until you’re cross-eyed and see other reporters (and lawyers like John Sauer, and plaintiffs like Jay Bhattacharya, Martin Kulldorff, and Aaron Kheriaty, in cases like Missouri v. Biden) push things forward even more with unscrambled brains.
One thing that’s unique about Substack is that it feels like a group activity you do with your readers, as opposed to talking at them, which is what it felt like more often in legacy journalism. I thought this was a good moment to tell you all how much I enjoy doing this with you, and to point out something that goes for Public and The Free Press subscribers, too: we got to have an impact on something this year, which is rare for journalism in general, but especially for independent outlets like this one.
I hope it’s been fun for you, and I hope you’re all good with keeping at it. Who knows where this will all lead? As Ice Cube would say, I’m Down For Whatever. I hope you all are too, and thanks again.