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…

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. 

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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.

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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…

 

The Real Meaning of Journalism Ethics

Folks, journalism ethic’s really important to me. It’s why I’m really involved in the Columbia Journalism Review and Poynter Institute. I figure if we don’t have good news, how are we going to help others? To me, journalism ethics is about trustworthy news and exposing the bad guys.

But, because I’m not a journalist, I wanted to reach out to someone who’s doing this work daily. I asked Kelly McBride, of Poynter Institute, a few questions to talk more about the real meaning of journalism ethics.

Do you think journalism ethics is about exposing the bad guys?

Yes, and much more. But exposing bad guys is part of holding the powerful accountable. It’s not easy though because there aren’t always clear-cut bad guys. So in addition to exposing bad guys, journalism is about exposing flawed systems, incompetence, and unintended consequences.  Take the recent data that demonstrates and black children are expelled from school, even preschool, at higher rates than white children. There is no one bad guy here. But there sure as heck is a bad outcome that has to be remedied. Journalism has a role to play in holding the factcheckpowerful accountable that goes way beyond figuring out who the bad guy is.

What do you think is at stake for journalism and for journalism ethics?

Journalism is such a big tent, it’s hard to say what’s specifically at stake for the entire profession of journalism. But if you want to narrow that tent a little to, say, the journalism that strives as its primary mission to inform citizens and hold the powerful accountable,  I would say that this: What’s at stake is the ability of citizens to take information seriously. The marketplace of ideas is going to go in one of two directions. Either citizens will doubt everything, all sources.  Or citizens learn to distinguish information by certain markers like brand or transparency. Journalism organizations want option B and they want to be among the trusted sources. So really what’s at stake is whether we can continue to have a participatory democracy as our form of government.
What are the consequences of truthiness in journalism?

Truthiness is a bad thing. It’s when you repeat a fiction or a distortion over and over again until people believe it’s a real fact. So the consequence of truthiness not being in journalism would be a good thing.

How reliable do you think citizen journalism is?

Like all journalism, it runs the gamut. There are great examples of citizens filming police officers abusing their power, or evidence that governments have lied to their people. The thing about information generated by citizens is that usually only the good stuff rises to the top. So I’m not that concerned about the bad stuff.

What’s your best advice for factchecking and doing it the right way?

I like that fact checking is usually part of the production of every piece of journalism, as well as a separate act of journalism. All journalists fact check. And then more recently we have developed a discipline of fact checking things that politicians and pundits say. This recent development was necessary because of the proliferation of voices, as well as the proliferation of social media, which allows individuals to distribute a lot of information without going through professional journalists.

 

If this topic’s important to you, take a look at these 4 factchecking sites that’re the real deal. And I’d really like to hear what journalism ethics means to you, and your take on what Kelly had to say.

 

Smart words about journalism from danah boyd

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danah’s the bravest and most effective writer on matters like keeping kids safe on the Internet, getting the facts out in areas where people tend to make stuff up.

Her post on Medium might articulate a lot about journalism, both from a journalism and a news consumer perspective. You can read it here.

She gets to the point, writing simply and effectively.

“… 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?”

Also, check out her new book, It’s Complicated

(Note to self: this also reminds me that I don’t write so good.)

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…

Does Journalism Need New Ethics?

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Folks, here’s an excerpt of a blog post I wrote for Poynter. Please click here to read the whole story.

When I saw a story recently in the New Republic asserting that Silicon Valley has become one of “the most ageist places in America,” I was taken aback.

As far as I can tell, there is discrimination against older people in the business world, but it’s no different from what I’ve seen through a 38-year career. It doesn’t surprise me, since I’ve faced what might be ageism (I’m 61), but maybe I have been discriminated because I’m balding, short, and pudgy.

Still, I have concerns that readers might take this particular story about ageism as proven fact — even though the reporting seems to be mostly anecdotal.

The story characterizes a group of maybe a million people based on a small sample size and, to me, a handful of the anecdotes seemed not so good, not so trustworthy. As a very literal guy (nerd) I assume that the headline and the body of the article are telling me that the vast majority of folks in Silicon Valley are guilty of a form of bigotry.

In the middle of my reflection, I read an interview with Aron Pilhofer from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism. Pilhofer runs a newsroom team at The New York Times that combines journalism, social media, technology and analytics. Some of his comments about data journalism, culture and going digital, seemed to echo my criticism of the New Republic’s piece on ageism.

“Journalism is one of the few professions that not only tolerates general innumeracy but celebrates it,” said Pilhofer in the interview.

“It’s a cultural problem. There is still far too much tolerance for anecdotal evidence as the foundation for news stories.”

Pilhofer’s comments confirmed what I was already thinking, that anecdotes are great clues as to what might be going on, but sometimes they are cherry-picked to confirm what a writer already believes. That’s to say that they can reinforce truthiness and preconceived notions.

I view hard data as complementary to anecdotal evidence. We need to balance both. If somebody asserts something factual, I want them to back it up with more than anecdotes, so that readers can trust it.

I turned to friends I’ve made in the journalism world for their opinions. Since I’m just a news consumer, not a professional journalist, I wanted their expert opinions. I asked them each to respond to this question:

When is anecdotal reporting enough to support broad conclusions without concrete data? This recent article on ageism in Silicon Valley seemed to paint an entire group of people based a handful of examples. Is that fair?

You can read folks’ responses over on Poynter. And, I’d like to hear what you think, too. Please share your opinions in the comments below. And be sure and check out the Harvard Business Review article How Old Are Silicon Valley’s Top Founders? Here’s the Data.

Reliable Factchecking is Key

Folks, I stumbled across a great editorial this past weekend in a North Carolina newspaper, Sun Journal. The article connects the survey we just conducted with factchecking remarkably well:

First they report on survey finds, but then use them to rightfully brag on their own strict policies regarding the accuracy of their coverage.

They say,

We’re not popping any buttons over the survey results — a Gallup poll last fall reported 55 percent of Americans distrust the media generally — but we do take them as an endorsement of some standard practices at this newspaper, all of which are designed to ensure accuracy, even at the cost of not being first.

We do not report information that we cannot confirm through reliable sources — for instance, from a police department spokesman or an official document, if not from an eyewitness — and we attribute that information by name, not to an unnamed source, in virtually all cases. We do not usually report second-hand news — that is, news that originates with a media outlet not associated with the Sun Journal — and if we do, we identify the source, a practice not always followed by our cousins in the electronic media.

The zooming popularity of social media and its potential for newspapers as a distribution platform put pressure on those practices only if reporters and editors subordinate our primary goal of getting it right. That won’t happen here. We’re excited about possibilities offered by social media for getting and distributing the news and plan to use those tools fully to make our reporting more timely, more accessible and, yes, to beat the competition to the punch. But when speed conflicts with accuracy, we’re not afraid to apply the brakes.

I appreciate when people can use both social media and factchecking effectively. It’s so important to verify your sources properly and it’s a topic I continue to explore. Recently I spoke at the NextGen: Charity event to explore this topic further. Reliable factchecking will go a long way in restoring readers’ trust in newspapers. With only 22% of respondents in our survey finding newspapers “very credible” I think improved factchecking is something newspapers and publishers should think about making a higher priority if they ever want to win back our wholehearted trust.

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