What’s Over the Horizon for Trustworthy News

What’s Over the Horizon for Trustworthy News


Sometimes I say that "trust is the new black"; more recently, I like the notion that "a trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy."

However, it looks like news media has generally lost the trust of the American public:

This might have to do with major failures in mass news media:

  • Dean Starkman shows us that the press fully knew that the economy was a mess during the last decade, but never told the American public about it. (This appears to be an ongoing problem.)
  • There was a fake IRS scandal, where the press was alerted to the problem by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), but this received little or no coverage.
  • Six billion in cash was "lost" in Iraq, but the only real coverage was in Vanity Fair (I've asked, they tell me that article is fully fact checked).
  • There's what Jon Stewart calls the "CNN leaves it there" problem, where a news outlet knowingly airs clear-cut lying and then repeats it.
  • danah boyd gets to the point in "First: Do No Harm" when she asks,But since when did the practice of journalism allow for uncritically making shit up? ::shaking head:: Where's the fine line between poor journalism and fabrication? 


I'm only a news consumer, though people in the news business have shown me how the sausage is made, and I've seen a lot of ugly stuff. However, I'd like to focus on moving forward.

I've seen it in the form of the Trust Project with the additional suggestion by Jeff Jarvis.

The gist of this effort is to develop signals of trust for news outlets and individual articles. For example, a news outlet would commit to a serious code of ethics/trust and also diversity, and some means wherein the news outlet could be held accountable to that code.

In essence, an article would say "trust me" and back it up.

The ethics code work of the Society of Professional Journalists and that of the Online News Association are really good places to start.

So, the gist of the Trust Project is that:

  1. A news outlet promises to be trustworthy, indicating that via standard signals in publication.
  2. Articles from that outlet could be ranked higher, in places like Google News and the Facebook feed, than articles from sources that don't promise trustworthiness.

This is NOT about any news aggregator picking and choosing what's trustworthy; making such a claim would itself be untrustworthy.

Yes, this isn't easy, since a fake news outlet could claim to be trustworthy. We need some trusted network to test challenges to trustworthiness, maybe inspired by Wikipedia.

However, I've looked around, and I can't find any effort that provides any hope to get to a broadly trustworthy press.

Help us, folks, you're our only hope.


This post was originally published as part of a series commemorating The Huffington Post's 10 Year Anniversary through expert opinions looking forward to the next decade in their respective fields. To see all of the posts in the series, read here.



Pieter Ruiter

Would love to help, as I've observed the same. How can grassroots help – other than mention this everywhere they go? Maybe some kind of partnership with a pre-configured open-source CMS (like drupal, plone, preferably something that is somewhat secure) as regional/local multi-author news site that has some source verifications built in as part of back-end workflow prior to news getting published?

Note: imho Tech solutions only get us halfway, and possible the second half-way. People need to create trustworthy content, and there are hardly any people around with the time to do this for free. How can we fund this, so it becomes self-sustainable and a source of work? (Because it is hard work.)

Should local or regional communities consider this part of the Commons (I would) and raise taxes to pay for a functioning community immune system? Perhaps as important as a functioning fire brigade.


Seymoour Hersch couldn't get The New Yorker to even think about touching his new Osama bin Laden story because it is so embedded in American corporate media machine (http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/05/sy-hersh-bin-laden-new-yorker-lrb.html). Mainstream news has been consolidated by big corporatations for many years the same way politics has been infiltrated and bought by them as well. The problem is very clear: money = influence. While I admire what the Trust Project is trying to do, I find it hard to believe that the majority of bought-and-paid-for news outlets will suddenly start self-policing in this modern socioeconomic climate, and that we'll be able to unthinkingly trust them because they earn a seal of approval from a third party. The problem we should be looking at is many floors up from policing individual news outlets. We must focus on removing the influence of giant corporations and moneyed individuals in our news as well as politics. When I look at news these days, the first question I ask myself to evaluate its veracity is "cui bono" – who benefits from this narrative? Increasingly I find that only non-mainstream independent media — media that is NOT funded by corporations — is where the truth can be found. And there are many independent/small news outlets out there already doing a fantastic job. Many times journalists like Seymour Hersch must go far afield from their "day jobs" at mainstream news outlets to get anything resembling the truth even printed — they end up freelancing for smaller outfits or publishing blog posts when its time to do real investigative reporting — and the real work ends up scattered across the blogosphere. At the end of the day, a critically thinking audience is the most important component of news consumption; we can't rely on third party verification because that will, in time, be corrupted just like basic journalistic principles themselves have been corrupted over time. I feel so passionately about this issue that I'm building an alternative news aggregator for pulling together this diaspora of corporate-free reporting (that will have crownd-sourced features like fact-checking) as a forum for debate and facilitating critical thinking, understanding influence, and evaluating bias. The idea is not that any one Trusted Authority stamps reporting as "True"; the idea is that if we're given an even playing field free of moneyed interest to critically examine journalistic works and debate them openly, we can at least begin the work of thinking for ourselves and, moving forward, crowd-funding those voices who do represent the truth. http://levelnews.org/about/pitch/ (We're in the Women Who Tech competition right now).

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