Truth & Transparency was a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to religious accountability through impact journalism. Founded upon the belief that increased transparency results in fewer untruths, less corruption, and less abuse the organization, it provided sources and whistleblowers the technical ability to anonymously submit sensitive documents and other vital tips to assist in exposing abuses of religious power.
In order to produce the most impactful stories, Truth & Transparency's reporting concentrated on the following areas:
Donors deserve to know how their donations are being spent. Further, the great wealth of many religious institutions allows them to deeply influence society.
Policies that are not widely disseminated leave room to oppress the most vulnerable of a religion's membership.
Religious constituents can be better protected from abuse and harassment if essential details surrounding previous incidents and investigations are well known.
Truth & Transparency was founded in November 2017 by Ryan McKnight and Ethan Gregory Dodge. During it's years of operation, it produced impact journalism leading to accountability in two large religious organizations: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Jehovah's Witnesses. It also contributed to constructive commentary related to religion in various news outlets around the world including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Independent, NPR, ABC News, CBS News, Aljazeera, Slate, Gizmodo, and many other major and independent outlets.
Despite being officially organized in 2017, the work of Truth & Transparency began in December 2016 with a website known as MormonLeaks. The site deployed a tool known as SecureDrop in order to '[provide] sources and whistleblowers the technical ability to anonymously submit sensitive documents for use by professional and citizen journalists for starting and expanding news reporting, public commentary, and criticism related to Mormonism.'
MormonLeaks had early success, publishing the first publicly available documents detailing the salary of top LDS leaders. Soon after, the LDS Church legally requested the removal an internal slide deck published by the site. One slide portrayed what the media later dubbed an 'Enemies List.' DocDroid, the third party used to published the document, complied with the request. MormonLeaks responded by posting the document again on its own server located in Switzerland and refuting the church's DMCA claim.
These efforts and successes soon caused McKnight and Dodge to expand their whistleblowing and transparency efforts to all religions, forming FaithLeaks. In January 2017, internal investigation of sexual abuse within a Massachusetts congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. Later, thousands of documents that had previously been published on the popular site, AvoidJW.org, were removed but republished with the help of FaithLeaks. This resulted in another four legal requests, this time from Watch Tower, the governing organization of Jehovah's Witnesses. The orgazniation asked for the removal of dozens of documents published on FaithLeaks.
Up to this point, McKnight and Dodge had simply released documents without commentary or reporting, allowing the public and the media to decide their implications. However, in May 2018 when MormonLeaks compiled public documentation Sterling Van Wagenen , a prominent Mormon filmmaker and co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival. Originally known as 'David', Escobar recorded a conversation between himself and his perpetrator. During the conversation, Van Wagenen admitted to Escobar's accusations. This story, featured in the New York Times , empowered another survivor to come forward and Van Wagenen later pled guilty in the courtroom. He is now behind bars as a direct result of Truth & Transparency's reporting.
Truth & Transparency subsequently broke several other stories dealing with the abuse of minors by members of the LDS Church. Their investigative reporting also led to the discovery of a venture capital arm of the LDS Church. Both attention and momentum in their reporting was increasing.
However, at the beginning of 2020, while trying to secure funding and ensure the longterm success of the newsroom, Truth & Transparency was sued by Watch Tower and forced to settle, resulting in the removal of all documents owned by the Jehovah's Witnesses. After the financial blow, along with personal and familial hardships experienced by both McKnight and Dodge during the COVID-19 pandemic, Truth & Transparency became dormant for nearly two years.
In April 2020, Truth & Transparency announced their intentions to cease operations after the release of one last news story, the results of a 2020 investigation put on hold due to the lawsuit. Both McKnight and Dodge hope to continue their journalistic endeavors on a freelance basis going forward.