A Trustworthy Press is the Immune System of Democracy

lincoln

I’m a news consumer. I’m not trying to tell anybody how to do their job, or how to fix the news. I’m not in the business, and will respect professional boundaries.

I just want news I can trust. I also want to help reward good, honest journalism.

Since I’m not an expert, I have to defer to those who are. I’ve spent about ten years talking to a lot of these folks, and have recently joined the boards of Poynter Institute and Columbia Journalism Review, in addition to the Center for Public Integrity and Sunlight Foundation.

I do feel that most journalists perform admirably, but it takes very little to compromise trust in a news publication.

There’re good reasons to hope for the restoration of “the immune system of democracy,” but here’s a little of what gives me bad nights:

      • 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. (Have the problems really been fixed?)
      • 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.
      • It’s also not uncommon for the press to – deliberately or not – assist in the creation of propaganda or hoaxes – things like the so-called Obamacare “death panels” which had no basis in reality but were presented by the press as though they did. In fact, the press has never consistently and relentlessly set the record straight on Obamacare.
      • danah boyd succinctly reports of the most fundamental problem, in “First: Do No Harm” where she notes the journalistic tendency to accept survey results, even if a little looking would reveal them to be fake. The bottom line:

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?

Old school, editors expected reporters to get stuff right, they prized their credibility, weren’t so concerned about selling ads. That message: “get it right.” Plausible fake news could get through the editors, but it was considered wrong.

New school, of recent years, seems to send the message: “don’t get caught.” Editors don’t seem to care as long as the fakeness is good enough, and sensationalist enough to sell ads.

Nowadays a lie gets everywhere before a good actor can even respond.

Please remember that I do feel that most journalists perform admirably, but it takes very little to compromise trust in a news publication.

That is, it looks to me like the vast majority of people in news try really hard, and perform admirably under intense pressure.

However, often the requirement is only that a story must be plausible, and under pressure, that replaces due diligence and accountability, except in black and white situations, like plagiarism.

So, we see a lot of “stenography,” particularly in politics, the acceptance of received or conventional wisdom, per the story subjects described earlier. Jon Stewart illustrated this when he showed the visible reaction of a reporter, responding to an obvious political lie, who had to “leave it there”…repeated every half hour.

Good news, everyone!

There are hardass press organizations insisting on stricter ethics and accountability, like the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the Online News Association (ONA).

Me, I’m not looking to be a hardass. I know the news business is brutally tough. I’m not looking for perfection. As a news consumer, I’m happy with a good faith effort.

Do your best to get it right. If you do, great. If you don’t, admit you got it wrong, fix it, even if hard, and try harder next time.

And we should reward journalists and press outlets that are practicing good, honest journalism.

Recently, I heard about the Trust Project at the factcheckMarkkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in cooperation with Richard Gingras, a longtime advocate of innovation in journalism, who happens to oversee Google News.

Jeff Jarvis built on this work. He suggested that Google News give higher rankings to news reports that are probably more trustworthy, rewarding ethical practice in maybe the best way possible.

(I don’t think I present Jeff’s ideas well here, but he seems to be the pointy end of the spear regarding news ethics, on the professional side.)

“More trustworthy” is a really difficult problem, it involves figuring out ways that articles propagate signals regarding their trustworthiness.

      • The publisher should have a code of ethics/trust comparable to that of the SPJ or ONA.
      • The publisher should hold itself accountable, not only prominently correcting errors, but propagating those corrections where they’ve flowed to other publishers.
      • Google News could uprank articles which have strong codes of ethics with accountability, and maybe downrank articles which don’t show corrections.
      • I’d like to think crowdsourcing could help, but disinformation professionals may be really too good to overcome.

That’s just the beginning of conversation, which is mission-critical for the survival of American democracy. How do we refine these signals into something useful? What other signals are useful? What can you add?

Remember, I’m just a news consumer like most people, unfortunately the pointy end of the spear from that perspective.

I just want news I can trust.

Note: After a reader called to our attention that the quote, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on,” was not said by Winston Churchill, we knew we had to do the same thing we think the media should do when someone calls out an error – admit it and fix it. Currently the author is unknown, and the quote was removed from the post.

Why Trustworthy News Should Matter More

factcheckWe’re living in a society where trustworthy news should matter more than it seems to. As I’ve been saying, the press should be the immune system of democracy, and needs to fulfill that role again.

And just a reminder that factchecking efforts only have value, it’s felt, if:

  • Misinformation is corrected, in a way that doesn’t reinforce the lie.
  • Any involved news outlets are encouraged to avoid promoting misinformation.
  • Regular people, the broad citizenry, have the means to easily help media correct misinformation and encourage news outlets to restore factchecking.

More to come, and soon…

5 Voter Rights Orgs You Should Follow

Hey, the Founders of the US tell us that everyone’s equal in the eyes of the law, meaning that citizens have the right to vote. However, there are politicians who don’t like that, and they’re attacking the integrity of the election by making it hard for people to vote. Fortunately, there are some organizations doing really good work to ensure that any barriers to voting are removed for everyone who’s got the right to vote.

We also gotta vote and make sure the politicians hear our voices and know we count and we matter.

I’d like you to help out all Americans fulfill what I feel is an actual duty to our families, neighborhoods, and the country. Check out these organizations, register to vote, and maybe ask your neighbor if they’re registered, too. It’s pretty simple to vote by mail, nowadays, if allowable. (I’ve done so for most of the last twenty something years.)

5 voter rights orgs you should follow, in no particular order:

1. Voto Latino (disclaimer: I’m on their Advisory Board)

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Voto Latino is a nonpartisan organization that empowers Latino Millennials to claim a better future for themselves and their community. United by the belief that Latino issues are American issues and American issues are Latino issues, Voto Latino is dedicated to bringing new and diverse voices to develop leaders by engaging youth, media, technology and celebrities to promote positive change.

Why it Matters:

• There are roughly 15 million American Latino youth in the U.S., but only a small fraction vote.
• 50% of all eligible Latino voters are under 40 and 33% are between 18 and 34.
• By 2050, Latino youth are expected to comprise 29% of the U.S. youth population.
• 66,000 American Latinos turn 18 every month.
• 90% of American Latinos under 29 consume information in English.
• Latinos make up more than 10% of the electorate in 11: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada and Texas.

2. League of Women Voters

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The League of Women Voters is a citizens’ organization that has fought since 1920 to improve our government and engage all citizens in the decisions that impact their lives. They operate at national, state and local levels through more than 800 state and local Leagues, in all 50 states as well in DC, the Virgin Islands and Hong Kong.

Formed from the movement that secured the right to vote for women, the centerpiece of the League’s efforts remain to expand participation and give a voice to all Americans. They do this at all three levels of government, engaging in both broad educational efforts as well as advocacy. Their issues are grounded in our respected history of making democracy work for all citizens.

3. The Brennan Center for Justice

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The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan law and policy institute that seeks to improve our systems of democracy and justice. They work to hold our political institutions and laws accountable to the twin American ideals of democracy and equal justice for all. The Center’s work ranges from voting rights to campaign finance reform, from racial justice in criminal law to Constitutional protection in the fight against terrorism. A singular institution — part think tank, part public interest law firm, part advocacy group, part communications hub — the Brennan Center seeks meaningful, measurable change in the systems by which our nation’s governed.

4. Rock the Vote rock the vote

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Rock the Vote is the largest non-profit and non-partisan organization in the US driving the youth vote to the polls. Fusing pop culture, politics, and technology, Rock the Vote works to mobilize the millennial voting bloc and the youth vote, protect voting rights, and advocate for an electoral process and voting system that works for the 21st century electorate.
Since 1990, Rock the Vote has revolutionized the use of pop culture, music, art and technology to inspire political activity. Now, for almost 25 years, Rock the Vote has pioneered ways to make voting easier by simplifying and demystifying voter registration and elections for young adults.

They were early advocates for states allowing voters to register by mail and were the first organization to use a toll-free number to register voters over the phone. They were also the first organization to create a voter registration tool to register voters online.

5. Fair Elections Legal Network

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The Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN) is a national, nonpartisan voting rights and legal support organization whose mission is to remove barriers to registration and voting for traditionally underrepresented constituencies and improve overall election administration through administrative, legal, and legislative reform as well as provide legal and technical assistance to voter mobilization organizations.

 

 

Thanks! And please comment with other groups doing good work…My team and I will check ’em out, and maybe add them to this Resource List that we’re compiling.

Are You Ready to Vote?

Folks, we’re only 2 weeks away from National Voter Registration Day (NVRD), on September 23. In 2008, 6 million Americans didn’t vote because they missed a registration deadline or didn’t know how to register. In 2014, Your Vote!NVRD’s continuing their efforts to make sure everyone has a fair chance to vote.

And please remember that the Declaration of Independence reminds us that everyone should be treated equally under the law, and that includes voting rights.

You may wonder what NVRD will actually accomplish, and according to their site, the purpose of this day is to:

      • Register Voters: A network of a thousand orgs operating on the ground and through social media will register tens of thousands of voters in the field and tens of thousands more online while also receiving pledges to vote from those already registered.
      • Mobilize Volunteers: By partnering with nonprofits not usually engaged in voter registration drives, and amplifying existing drives through event-based recruitment and cultural outreach, National Voter Registration Day will bring together thousands of volunteers across the nation to register voters.
      • Educate Eligible Voters: Millions of voters need to register and re-register every year. By utilizing new technology and leveraging partners, we’ll educate more Americans than ever before, bringing new voters into the fold.
      • Change the Conversation: National Voter Registration Day will be an opportunity to put our differences aside and celebrate the rights that unite us as Americans; democracy.

celebrating democracy

I also want to acknowledge all the folks who really have their boots on the ground. National Voter Registration Day has been made possible in part by a working group of orgs providing coordination and support. These organizations include, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance Education Fund, Bus Federation Civic Fund, Fair Elections Legal Network, League of Women Voters, Nonprofit VOTE, Rock the Vote, and Voto Latino.

They’ve also created a Partner Toolkit, which is a collection of resources for you to use in an effort to organize events and activities leading up to National Voter Registration Day 2014.

The Toolkit includes a field guide, communications guide, graphics, and legal guides by state, please check that out. Make sure to share this stuff, and use the hashtag, #CelebrateNVRD.

And, if you’re planning an event, make sure to add it to NVRD’s event directory so others in your community can be aware and get involved.

In the past, I created a list of reasons I think it’s important to vote. Check it out, and let me know if you have anything to add.

Are you registered to vote?

Some Things You Should Know About Voter ID Laws

Voter ID Laws: solving a nonexistent problem with more government and more expense.

Folks, we’re almost a month away from National Voter Registration Day, on September 23, 2014, and less than 3 months away from elections, and that means that you should be aware of your rights.

Elections for US States Senate will be November 4, 2014. These elections mark 100 years of direct elections of U.S. Senators.

The elections to the US House of Representatives, elections for governors in states and territories, and many state and local elections will also be held on November 4, 2014.

The Declaration of Independence reminds us that we’re all equal under the law, but there are politicians who find that threatening.

There are some real bad actors out there trying to implement laws to stop eligible people, including women, the elderly, and communities of color, from voting. What I learned in high school civics class is that an attack on voting rights is virtually the same as an attack on the country.

According to the ACLU, 30 states require voters to present identification to vote in federal, state and local elections.

The Founders of the US tell us that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, meaning that citizens have the right to vote. However, there are politicians who don’t like that, and they’re attacking the integrity of the election by making it hard for people to vote.

But there are some orgs out there who are doing real good work, like the Advancement Projectthe Brennan Center for Justice, Rock the Vote, League of Women Voters, and Voto Latino, they really have their boots on the ground when it comes to protecting the voting rights of us all.

49 yrs ago, LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) to protect all voters. And, hey, maybe it’s time Congress does the same. It’s been over a year since the Supreme Court gutted the VRA. Congress needs to protect all voters by passing the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA) to restore the VRA and provide modern, nationwide protections against discrimination at the polls.

It’s important to know when the Voter Registration deadline is in your state, you can find out here.

Disenfranchising voters is not a new thing, but has been happening across the country for some time now. A while back, my team and I created an infographic about the impact of voter suppression. And we also put together a list of voting resources; please check it out, and share any helpful resources that you think are missing in the comment section.

Journalism Ethics: Why I’m Joining Poynter Institute

Hey, I just joined the Foundation Board of the Poynter Institute because of my interest in protecting journalism ethics. 

poynter

As a Board Member, I’ll support the Institute as an advisor, an ambassador, and try to be a useful resource. I’m doing this work because Poynter Institute’s the real deal, they’re a bridge between journalism’s core values and its innovative digital transformation.

factcheck

Joining this board’s a big deal since it already consists of folks who really care about good journalism and its role as the heart of democracy and its mission of seeking truth and building trust.

I really just want news I can trust.

Couple years ago, I blurted out that “the press should be the immune system of democracy.” And I still believe that.

Turns out that what we have now are a lot of ethics codes and policies, but very little accountability. This is something I often discuss when I talk about trustworthy journalism in a fact-checking-free world.

I’ve already been heavily involved in Poynter, promoting their new book about journalism ethics, emphasizing the importance of using accountability to expose the bad guys, helping spread the word about restoring trustworthiness to news, and I sponsored their conference about the restoration of journalism ethics.

I’m really thankful to join a board of really great folks for a good cause. More to come…

 

4 factchecking sites that’re the real deal

Folks, I just want news I can trust. As I’ve been saying, the press should be the immune system of democracy, and needs to fulfill that role again. With the Internet, everyone can be their own journalist now. It’s become increasingly difficult to find news that comes from a trustworthy press.

Factchecking efforts only have value, it’s felt, if:

    • Misinformation is corrected, in a way that doesn’t reinforce the lie.
    • Any involved news outlets are encouraged to avoid promoting misinformation.
    • Regular people, the broad citizenry, have the means to easily help media correct misinformation and encourage news outlets to restore factchecking.politifact meter

My team and I compiled a list of 4 factchecking sites that are the real deal (in no particular order, and please note that none are perfect, and sometimes their calls are called into question):

      1. FlackCheck.org, brought to you by the folks at factcheck.org – FlackCheck.org provides resources designed to help viewers recognize flaws in arguments in general and political ads in particular.
      2. Politifact, a project of the Tampa Bay Times to help you find the truth in American politics.
      3. Sunlight Foundation – Sunlight uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency.
      4. Poynter. – Poynter is a school that exists to ensure that our communities have access to excellent journalism—the kind of journalism that enables us to participate fully and effectively in our democracy.

 

What sites do you follow because they’re the most ethical and trustworthy? More to come…

Texas government working hard to prevent women from voting

Folks, we are gearing up for midterm elections and that means that you should be aware of your rights. wendy-davis-e1382019677722

There are some real bad actors out there trying to implement laws to stop eligible people, including women, from voting. What I learned in high school civics class is that an attack on voting rights is virtually the same as an attack on the country.

The New Civil Rights Movement writes, as reported by Think Progress:

“as of November 5, Texans must show a photo ID with their up-to-date legal name. It sounds like such a small thing, but according to the Brennan Center for Justice, only 66% of voting age women have ready access to a photo document that will attest to proof of citizenship. This is largely because young women have not updated their documents with their married names, a circumstance that doesnʼt affect male voters in any significant way. Suddenly 34% of women voters are scrambling for an acceptable ID, while 99% of men are home free.”

Some politicians have tried to manipulate voting laws for their benefit, that’s not right. We need integrity in our elections and voting that’s free, fair, and accessible.

It’s up to us all to ensure the integrity of our voting process by getting registered, speaking up against voter ID laws and the attack on voting rights, and to encourage everyone to vote, regardless of ethnicity or gender.

Disenfranchising voters is not a new thing, but has been happening across the country for some time now. Last year, I worked with some good folks to create an infographic about impact of voter suppression.

Capture

My team and I have compiled a list of voting resources; please check it out, and share any helpful resources that you think are missing in the comment section.

Trustworthy journalism in a fact-checking-free world

Getting real about trustworthy journalism

Okay, I really just want news I can trust.

Couple years ago, I blurted out that “the press should be the immune system of democracy.”

Personally, I really don’t like being lied to, but my deal here is that our social contract with the news business is that they hold the powerful to account.

In return, we buy the products of news outlets, and give news professionals certain protections, like the US First Amendment and shield laws.

That gives the press a lot of power, which means that the news industry itself needs to be accountable. That’s a lot easier said than done, and it’s only getting harder to do.

However, if a journalist or news outlet isn’t trustworthy, is it worth buying? Is it good for the country?

factcheck
Well, I’m not in the news business, I’m an outsider, but over years I’ve spent a lot of time with people in the business, and I’ve gotten glimpses as to how the sausage is made. That means I gotta respect boundaries, and not tell people how to do their job.

That job gets more and more challenging, and even good news orgs can have lapses. I’m good with that, if they fix those lapses and hold themselves otherwise accountable, in good faith. Sure, there’re legal consequences, but the bottom line is driven by trustworthy actions.

The solution involves:

Turns out that what we have now are a lot of ethics codes and policies, but very little accountability.

To make sense of this, here’s the kind of lapse I’m talking about, none of which seems to have been addressed.

1. NBC selectively edited a video and badly misrepresented a guy in a real ugly case. Not clear if they’ve come clean about it yet.

Suggestion: news outlets should make the full recording available, perhaps via a discreet rapid-response accountability team.

2. Sometimes a news outlet might broadcast a public figure lying, even when they know it’s a lie. This is what Jon Stewart calls the “CNN leaves it there” problem.

Suggestion: Reporters are smart, if they know they’re being lied to, don’t broadcast it. If they smell a lie but not sure, do a good faith fact-check.

3. Sometimes a news outlet does fact-checking and “forgets” to follow through. This has happened to me, but more importantly, happened to Jimmy Wales very recently, in the NY Times:

“It is very odd and filled with a lot of basic factual errors. For example, it says that Wikipedia was run out of a strip mall at one point – that’s just completely false and a very weird thing to have said, particularly since I explained to the fact checker that it was wrong!”

Suggestion: do fact-checking, and then, correct any falsehoods.

4. Sometimes multiple news outlets will report first, without fact-checking, doing a lot of damage. This was particularly true in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon attack.

Suggestion: confirm facts before publication.

5. Sometimes, news outlets don’t do their research, get a story badly wrong, and really hurts the country. This is very true regarding the recent IRS scandal, the real story is more about Congressional failure and that the IRS isn’t targeting enough possibly bogus charities.

Suggestion: use actual fact-checked research. Using other news reports as sources is not reliable. Reporting should be transparent about the political motivations of the people pushing the story. Specifically, journalists need to make sure they spend as much “good faith” time in exploring agendas as they do in seeking sources and exploring “the facts” they are made privy to.If so, the story would be perceived differently, perhaps accurately.

The news business is under considerable pressure, competing for a shrinking audience, often having to come up with many new stories per day. Sometimes the facts just can’t be checked, which is a big reason I keep talking about “good faith.”

My personal bias is that the news industry should create their own accountability tools. I don’t think they’ll be perfect, just looking for good faith action.

However, right now people are stirring the pot, constructively, suggesting that the government intervene.

Specifically, people are suggesting that “journalists” should have US First Amendment and shield law protections. Non-professionals, specifically “bloggers,” might be denied those protections.

I think that way of doing it is wrong, and that the issue isn’t “journalist vs. blogger” but whether or not the reporter and news outlet are accountable. Here, “accountable” means “acting in good faith to be trustworthy” which means having an ethics code and honestly trying hard to follow that code.

Does a journalist or news outlet without accountability have legal protections?

You can find a great summary by Mathew Ingram, which incorporates a lot of good work from Jillian York, Jeff Jarvis, David Weinberger, and others.

However, any news outlet that wants to succeed must be trustworthy, that is, accountable. I feel that’s required for their survival, and for national survival.

Perhaps people in news can suggest how they can get to actual accountability?

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