Craig Newmark: I want to have news again that I can trust

“I’m not in the news business and won’t tell people how to do their job. I’d like to restore trust in the news business, though, and feel that restoring fact checking will really help. News business realities mean that such fact checking has to be practical, it has to be fast and cheap.” — Craigslist founder Craig Newmark in in last Wednesday’s San Francisco Chronicle

This email is posted with Craig Newmark’s permission:

Craig Newmark

from craig@craigslist.org
to [six journalists]
date Wed, Nov 23, 2011 at 4:32 PM
subject Making bigtime factchecking real

Recently, Jeff Jarvis at the City University of NY held an event on restoring factchecking to the news business. He did a really good job getting a bunch of players in this arena to play well together. Special thanks also the to the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism. (My contribution has been overstated, mostly prompting the event and tagging it as #factfest.)

Here’s my very brief attempt at getting my head around what happened and what’s happening with big deal factchecking. I’m biased, mostly wanting to have news again that I can trust, while figuring that I’m not in the news business and I’m not going to tell people how to do their job.

I’m subject to confirmation bias as well, wanting to see what I hope’s happening. Politically, I’m what I call a “libertarian pragmatist.”

1. Most people also want news they can trust again. That’s true of most journalists, but most find that their publishers find factchecking too lengthy and expensive. It’s like most publshers feel that if everyone else is cheating, it’s okay for them to cheat.

2. Specifically, people want news and opinion to be factchecked, that is, evidence and reality based. Even pundits should operate on the evidence.

3. There already exist independent networks of factcheckers, at politifact.com, factcheck.org, and sunlightFoundation.com. There are also partisan “factcheckers,” some of which operate in good faith, and some which deliberately seek to deceive.

4. There’s no large scale successful network of citizen factcheckers or contributors to factchecking. However, American Public Media’s Public Insight Network already succeeds as a sizable, funded, effective network of citizens which contribute to real journalism. In the near future, they plan to become a citzen factchecking network, directly working with the Center for Public Integrity. Also, the folks at Hypothes.is seek to build a large peer review network, focused on people with specific experise, and this might get big.

5. Current software research may result in systems to help factchecking, but not in the current timeframe.

6. My take: in the near term we can build a network of networks of factcheckers, both professional and citizen. This requires a little standardization of the way each factchecking database represents factchecks, whether of statements, public figures (mostly politicians), and pundits. That is, each factchecking database would respond to a query in a standard format, and return a verdict and a link to the reasoning behind that verdict. The devil’s in the details, for example, a search regarding a statement would need to recognize different versions and phrasing of a particular statement.

7. News sites would need a means to indicate which statements, public figures, or pundits which have been factchecked. The indicator could be a widget, which when clicked, queries the database, or it could be prepopulated. It could also take the form of “truth goggles,” a project of the MIT Media Lab, where a cursor placed over a statement would display the results of factchecking.

8. The widget or truth goggle could also be used to request factchecking. Either technique would be enhanced by browser plugins which might automatically scan text or video for previous factchecking.

7. Alternatively, in real time video interviewing, the database could be checked quickly. For example, if an interviewer suspects the interview subject is misstating facts, a control room operator could quickly search factchecking database.

8. News outlets which used these tools for factchecking would become regarded as trustworthy. The others, well, not so much.

Okay, I’ve been living with this a long time, and trying too hard to be concise; both mean I’m being unclear or glossing over detail. However, this is the biggest thing I might help with in my life, and feel I need to say something and move the effort ahead.

Comments

comments

6 comments
  1. Anonymous said:

    Just as long as no one gets paid for it. As we all know, information should be free.

  2. H. Barca said:

    Fast and cheap. Great, Craig. How about free and full of fenced goods and underaged prostitution rings. Oh, right, you already did that one.

  3. People will pile on these ideas just because they come from Craig, but a few of them sound OK.

    The biggest problem, aside from getting the big media to embrace the idea, will be the issue of trying to “roll back the tide” when erroneous information gets into the water. Some of today’s laziest journalists hang out at message boards where false information is circulated, and they end up running with it.

  4. AnyMouse said:

    The news media drives this nation. Look at what happened about two years ago when the majority voice was heard. That was the media promoting an agenda that we are stuck with for 4 years. I read or view at least 5 means of news media every day. I know I can only make assumptions because the news is one sided. Leaning towards the side that sells. Would be nice to have news fact checked and unbiased. Report the entire story. Fact checking would have to happen quickly given todays speed of reporting events.

  5. There is no such thing as fast, cheap, non-partisan, independent, professional fact-checking. Forget about it. If you leave fact-checking to a unpaid interested citizens, it will be taken over by partisan hacks in no time.

    By the way, no one ever calls for fast, cheap checking of airplanes engines done by interested amateurs. Why not? Either you can rely on cheap hobby labor or not.

  6. Leigh Montgomery said:

    (I posted this on Craig Newmark’s blog but it was erased, so I’m posting it here.)

    This was an interesting and important event. Missing from the conversation were researchers, news librarians, archivists and others who safeguard editorial integrity in the news every day, though I’m glad some of us could participate via Twitter.

    These journalists do this professionally, and are critical in maintaining accuracy.

    I know it is infinitely less interesting / sci-fi than Truth Goggles which in the future allegedly journalists will be wearing and searching databases at hyperspeed.

    It’s great that the tools are in everyone’s hands now, but I think it is naive to think that there’s this highly motivated crowd, smartphone at the ready, eager to check all facts and receive virtual trophies and badges.

    Also let us remind ourselves that the Internet, news websites and commercial aggregators exist because there are archivists, news librarians and other professionals enhancing, classifying and transmitting content to these(often while doing a host of other things, including checking facts and creating content).

    There are several hundred journalists of this type working in this business, in broadcast, radio, newspaper journalism, and other emerging news forms, as well as Jon Stewart’s show as mentioned. Trust and accuracy is clearly important to these entities, as it should be if covering the news to contribute to an informed citizenry is your daily mission.

    If they are finding it too costly and time consuming, it is sincerely hoped that they still have some citizens and readers who are motivated enough to safeguard the facts for them.