The past few years have seen the launch of several news rating services that measure the trustworthiness of news organizations. They have grown amidst increasing concerns over fake news negatively affecting trust levels in news media. News rating tools aim to combat the effects of fake news by helping publishers assert their credibility.
While it’s still early days, such tools may turn out to be valuable for publishers. The Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019 found that trust level in the news media is down by 2% to 42%. And less than half of the readers (49%) agree that they trust the news media they themselves use.
The researchers comment, “Political polarisation has encouraged the growth of partisan agendas online, which together with clickbait and various forms of misinformation is helping to further undermine trust in media – raising new questions about how to deliver balanced and fair reporting in the digital age.”
Readers are seeking reputable news sources
However, readers’ concern over fake news has led them to seek out trusted news brands. According to the report, 26% of readers have started relying on ‘more reputable’ sources of news. This figure rises to 36% in Brazil, and 40% in the US. Additionally, 24% said they had stopped using news sources that had a ‘less accurate reputation.’
This is where news rating services may be useful to publishers. For example, NewsGuard which works through a free browser plugin, has journalists and editors review and rate news and information websites based on pre-selected journalistic criteria. The plugin assigns red or green shield-shaped labels to news sites where green represents trustworthiness, and red, the opposite.
A 2018 Gallup and the Knight Foundation study, Assessing the Effect of News Source Rating on News Content, found that participants using NewsGuard perceived news sources to be more accurate when they had a green icon beside them than a red icon.
According to the researchers, “Perceived accuracy increased for news headlines with a green source cue and decreased for headlines with a red source cue. Participants also indicated they were less likely to read, like or share news headlines with a red source cue.”
Further, the source rating tool was found to be effective across the political spectrum. The researchers concluded, “This survey experiment offers compelling evidence that the use of an online tool to indicate news organization reliability increases healthy skepticism when individuals consume news online.”
“Nutrition label” for news
NewsGuard works with The Trust Project which aims to help news publishers build credibility with what it calls “trust indicators.” These indicators facilitate transparency, by providing behind the scenes information about the news story, the publisher and the journalist. They include details like:
- The news outlet’s source of funding
- Commitment to accuracy
- Diversity of voices
- Expertise of journalists
- Sources of stories
- Why the story was chosen and how it was created
That’s just a select few of many other aspects covered by trust indicators. According to Sally Lehrman, CEO of The Trust Project, “It’s like a nutrition label that you would get on a piece of news. Maybe you care a lot about ethics. Maybe you care a lot about the author’s expertise. Maybe you care a lot about the organization as a whole. So, you will get all these pieces of information and you can make your own decisions about what news you want to trust.”
Partner news organizations can display the indicators within their own design environment on both their article pages and website. They are visible to readers and also embedded in the site code, enabling machines (like search engines) to read them.
Take The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest online news site, which has partnered with the Trust Project. Kenyon Wallace, an investigative reporter at The Star comments, “At the bottom of every article published on thestar.com, readers will now find links to three trust-related features: a more visible “Report an Error” button, a link to the Star’s journalistic standards guide and a link to the organization’s “About Us” page.”
33% expressed greater willingness to pay
Two studies have found that trust Indicators help increase readers’ trust in news sites. Reach Plc (UK) found that trust in its flagship outlet, The Mirror, increased by 8% after it added Trust Indicators to its site.
Today’s internet readers get their information from a multitude of sources, often without knowing anything about the provider. News organizations need to make it as easy as possible for readers to understand their values and credibility. Our research shows that readers do care about the people and brand providing their news – and giving them that information increases their trust.Ann Gripper, Executive Editor, The Mirror
A survey by the UT-Austin’s Center for Media Engagement found that readers’ perception of a news organization’s trustworthiness and reliability improved when trust indicators were present. 33% of the study’s participants expressed a greater willingness to pay for news from a site that was working with the Trust Project. Both studies also noted higher confidence in individual journalists.
The Trust Indicators now reach over 127M people, and are used by more than 120 news organizations worldwide. They include sites owned by the BBC (United Kingdom), The Economist (United Kingdom), Hearst Television, and the Washington Post.
While the above tools take a top-down approach where editors and journalists are reviewing news sources for readers, the newly launched (May 2019) Credder takes readers opinions into its fold as well. It gets journalists and readers to review and rate articles. The reviews are then aggregated into an overall credibility score.
Co-founder and CEO Chase Palmieri compares it to the movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Credder doesn’t host the content, it simply crawls the web and creates rating pages for articles, publications, and writers.
According to Co-founder Jared Fesler, “Credder is the only bottom-up, peer review service of its kind. Other products and solutions include artificial intelligence, blockchain, top-down rating models, and fact-checking, all of which have their own barriers to entering our market.”
While Credder is taking a novel approach to news rating, it faces the risk of being manipulated by biased reviewers. Palmieri acknowledges the dangers and says that they have been taking steps to mitigate such risks. For example, when a reader leaves a review for an article, he is given multiple options to explain his decision.
Reviewers are also held accountable as other users can upvote or downvote their comments. That affects how the reviews get weighted in the overall score, and in turn, generates a rating for the reviewers. Further, Credder has a manual process for verifying journalists among several other checks.
Helping discern quality in journalism
There are many other such services, in fact, often they are also similarly named, causing confusion. Some of them are, News Integrity Initiative, The Journalism Trust Initiative, Accountability Journalism Program, Trusting News, Trust & News Initiative and so on.
These initiatives have yet to prove their efficacy in the long run, but are positive, innovative measures that can combat the damaging effects of fake news, and may evolve into more powerful weapons in the battle against misinformation.
As Alexandra Borchardt, Director of Leadership Programmes at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism points out, “In most industries, a quality product is easy to identify, thanks to markers like price, brand, and reviews.
“But in journalism, discerning quality is becoming increasingly complicated, not least because, in the digital age, trusted brands like the BBC or The New York Times, which can be expected to adhere to long-established journalistic standards, are vastly outnumbered by upstart publications, blogs, and community reports. Not surprisingly, therefore, as claims of “fake news” have proliferated in recent years, trust in news media — established and otherwise — has plummeted.”
Many news organizations think they’re being transparent about their reporting process because they have a page buried on their website explaining their policies. But as you’d expect, asking readers to seek out this information on their own doesn’t exactly lead to a robust amount of pageviews.Rob Tornoe, Columnist, Editor and Publisher
News rating tools can serve as shortcuts that help readers quickly and reliably discern genuine from fake, and quality journalism from trash. They also make the workings of news organizations transparent to its audience. And that can be highly effective in attracting and retaining readers, as Richard Gingras, Vice President of News at Google said, “Transparency is important to building trust and trust is important to building engagement.
“It is gratifying to see the research by Reach prove those points. The Trust Indicators are valuable to assess the relative authoritativeness of news organizations and authors. We’re looking forward to developing new ways to use the indicators.”
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