A Letter From Our Founder

At Proof, we don’t chase stories. We develop hypotheses and test them. We aim to be transparent about what we know and what we don’t.

A Letter From Our Founder
Photograph of Julia Angwin by Kyle Gustafson

Hello world!

Welcome to Proof News. Proof is meant to be an answer to the existential question that journalists are struggling with right now: What is our purpose?

Journalism is fighting for its life. News organization revenues have collapsed around the world. Newsrooms are shutting down in record numbers. Historic news brands have been hollowed out and are no longer trustworthy. Public trust in the news has plummeted. 

There are many external reasons for the industry’s collapse, not the least of which are the surveillance advertising industry that deprives news outlets of the ability to effectively monetize their audiences and the social media gatekeepers who are deprioritizing news in their algorithms.

But despite these legitimate problems, journalists cannot sit back and simply blame others for our demise. We must also look within and examine what we can do better. We must especially consider what our role is in a world where anyone can publish. As singer-songwriter Billie Eilish put it, we must consider “What Was I Made For?” 

Journalism’s most important work is to hold power to account. Traditionally we have done this by occupying multiple roles. Primary among them are Witness, Storyteller, and Analyst. With our press passes, we are able to witness events that the public cannot. With our sources, we are able to tell stories that wouldn’t otherwise be told. And with experience and persistence, we are able to distill and demystify complex and opaque systems.

These days, however, there is no shortage of Witnesses and Storytellers. Our news feeds are bursting with people providing firsthand accounts of events large and small, and telling the stories of their lives. There has been a flowering of voices and stories — many of which were previously not spotlighted by the media.

Journalists still have a role to play as Witnesses and Storytellers. But I believe that we have an even more important role to play as Analysts. Awash in information, people need help making sense of all this witnessing and storytelling. Are the stories on their news feeds actually representative of what is happening in the world? Are they outliers being blown out of proportion? 

Analysis is particularly important in today’s world where power is so often cloaked in opaque and complex systems that require hard work to unravel.

This is where Proof aims to step in. We view our mission as sorting through all the available evidence and bringing you the best possible understanding of the truth at any given time. 

In this work, we believe that science is our best guide, rather than the journalistic notion of objectivity. As renowned journalist Wesley Lowery has eloquently expressed, objectivity has been misapplied in the news industry as a performative goal rather than a commitment to rigorous processes that counter the inherent biases that we all possess.

I believe the scientific method can serve as our guide to those rigorous processes. Although we are not scientists, journalists share with science the goal of understanding the world as it is, through iterative investigations that build upon past work.

This is not a new idea. The journalist Walter Lippmann called for this approach in 1922:

The cynicism of the trade needs to be abandoned, for the true patterns of the journalistic apprentice are not the slick persons who scoop the news, but the patient and fearless men of science who have labored to see what the world really is. It does not matter that the news is not susceptible of mathematical statement. 
In fact, just because news is complex and slippery, good reporting requires the exercise of the highest of scientific virtues. They are the habits of ascribing no more credibility to a statement than it warrants, a nice sense of the probabilities, and a keen understanding of the quantitative importance of particular facts. 

This type of thinking is what inspires us at Proof to view our work differently (although of course Lippmann’s assumption that only men can do science predates a reckoning in those fields as well).

At Proof, we don’t chase stories. We develop hypotheses and test them. We build software to collect data, and we use statistics to analyze it. We borrow from science the idea of peer review, asking experts to examine our work before publishing. We release our data to the public so that it can contribute to further research. 

We have created an “ingredients label” that distills the key elements of our work: the hypothesis, the sample size, the techniques we used in analysis, our key findings, and most important, the limitations of our work. 

Acknowledging our limitations is crucial: We aim to be transparent about what we know and what we don’t. Just as there is too much fake news out there, there is also too much false certainty. 

We want you, the reader, to have access to the best available version of the truth while understanding that we are all on a journey to better understanding. Additional facts or context may arise that shape how we understand a situation in the future. After all, we all used to think that cigarettes were awesome!

Focusing on findings and limitations — rather than stories — also frees us from another constraint of traditional journalism: the format. We will always provide you with an ingredients label, but we don’t intend to produce only words in the conventional print news format.

We will be distributing our work in all sorts of formats, from short-form videos to academic white papers. We call ourselves a journalism studio because we plan to collaborate with others and lift up other people’s work as often as we produce content solely for our website. 

As a nonprofit funded by donations, we don’t need to attract viewers to an ad-supported website. We are happy if you encounter our findings anywhere in the course of your day. 

Our goal is simply to inject better facts into the information ecosystem.

 Thank you for joining us on this adventure.

Julia Angwin
Founder, CEO, Editor-in-Chief
Proof News