Knight Foundation and Democracy Fund support MuckRock’s mission of improving access to public records

New funding positions MuckRock for long-term growth, brings founders on full time

Written by Michael Morisy
Edited by JPat Brown

We are excited and humbled to share that the Knight Foundation and Democracy Fund have announced $440,000 in support of MuckRock’s mission of making government more transparent and our democracy more informed.

Journalists, researchers, and ordinary citizens across the United States already use our public records platform to better understand government operations, and this support helps us expand that work in new ways while building an organization that will continue to inform and engage the public on issues of government transparency for a long time to come. We’ve already begun that work by launching our first user survey, and we are working hard to help newsrooms, activists, and other groups tackle ambitious projects that have never been possible before.

The support also allows cofounder Mitchell Kotler and myself to join MuckRock full time, and we’re excited to push forward with the experiment in transparency we started seven and a half years ago.

The full announcement is below, and we’ll have more news about what we’re working on in the weeks and months to come. You can find more information on our financials here.

MuckRock to improve access to public records with new $440,000 support from Knight Foundation and Democracy Fund

MuckRock, a platform that helps journalists and others request, analyze and share public records, will receive $240,000 in funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and $200,000 from the Democracy Fund to expand its subscriber base, introduce new training opportunities, and develop a plan to support Freedom of Information Act requests into the future.

“Freedom of information is a cornerstone of a strong democracy and prerequisite for quality journalism. By ensuring citizens are able to access public information easily, MuckRock promotes these important goals, while helping to make investigative and accountability reporting possible,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism.

Over the last four years, the power of Freedom of Information laws as a transparency tool has grown weaker. “Forecasting Freedom of Information,” a report by the University of Arizona’s David Cuillier supported by Knight, found that experts are seeing even more unnecessary delays and denials of records requests.

“Through the MuckRock platform, more journalists, newsrooms, and individuals have gained access to the resources they need to file successful FOIA requests,” said Tom Glaisyer, director of the Public Square program at Democracy Fund. “This will in turn increase the ability of journalists to report accurately, and for the American people to hold their institutions accountable.”

MuckRock was created in 2010 with the goal making Freedom of Information Act requests simple and affordable. Since 2016, the platform has been used to file more than 38,000 requests. It has been used by thousands of journalists in high-profile stories focused on topics from unveiling hidden Cold War history to tracing military gear given to local police.

With the new funding, MuckRock will develop a stronger plan for sustainability, working to expand revenue and its subscriber base. The organization will increase training opportunities to introduce journalists to the platform and build an awareness campaign to encourage use of the service by wide audiences including journalists, academics, researchers, and citizens. It will develop public records projects with news outlets to encourage investigative and accountability journalism in digital native newsrooms and build a network interested in developing more advanced digital freedom of information tools.

“When we started, we knew that the Freedom of Information Act and public records were critical to an informed democracy, but we underestimated just how important these tools were at all levels,” said Michael Morisy, MuckRock founder and executive director. “We’ve been blown away by the community that has built up around the site, and we’re excited to use this funding to continue to expand our work.”

Support for MuckRock is part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to champion the First Amendment in the digital age. Knight has made many investments in this area, including the Knight First Amendment Institute, a partnership with Columbia University that aims to shape and clarify laws on privacy, information access, libel and press freedom in the digital age.

About MuckRock

MuckRock is a non-profit, collaborative news site that brings together journalists, researchers, activists, and regular citizens to request, analyze, and share government documents, making politics more transparent and democracies more informed.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.KnightFoundation.org.

About Democracy Fund:

The Democracy Fund is a bipartisan foundation established by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar to help ensure that our political system can withstand new challenges and deliver on its promise to the American people. Since 2011, Democracy Fund has invested more than $60 million in support of effective governance, modern elections, and a vibrant public square. For more, visit democracyfund.org.