At an event Friday at the Newseum in downtown Washington, D.C., Cory Haik, Publisher of the Mic news site, mentioned that in 6 or 7 years her outlet had reached millions more than traditional news media has ever reached in the past within that time frame.
She was struck, she said, by the huge responsibility of that many eyes seeing what her site puts out. So she was an eager panelist at the Newseum event, which served as the official unveiling of The Trust Project, “an international consortium of news organizations collaborating to use transparency to build a more trustworthy and trusted press,” according to the Santa Clara University information page for the project.
What this means in practice is that news organizations — and some of the biggest tech aggregators such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter have all chosen to take part — will begin to supply meta information as context for what they put out for public consumption. The project calls them “trust indicators.”
“In today’s digitized and socially networked world, it’s harder than ever to tell what’s accurate reporting, advertising, or even misinformation,” Sally Lehrman, the journalist who heads the Trust Project, said in a statement. “The Trust Indicators put tools into people’s hands, giving them the means to assess whether news comes from a credible source they can depend on.”
Among other details, the indicators will show whether a story is a news report or advertising, highlight other articles the author has published and offer more clarity on the sources used to back up various claims in the story.
The Washington Post, The Economist, The Globe and Mail, and other publications are among the initial group of publishers using the indicators.
As an aside, Lehrman was asked by an attendee Friday if Fox News, Breitbart, Drudge Report and outlets “like that” had signed up to be a part of the project. Lehrman emphasized that the project is designed to be non-partisan and indicated there was a conservative outlet among the initial participants but didn’t indicate which one it was.
Because so much of media has been in the “affirmation not information” game, as one panelist called it, the Trust Project is a way for news outlets to get back to the ethics and integrity that defined journalism when the press was a more trusted entity 50 or so years ago, panelists said.
What the tech giants, who play a crucial role in disseminating news, ask of users is their participation in interacting with the trust indicators so they might begin to be more informed consumers of what they read. Given the recent appearance of these tech companies before Congress, in which they were asked to address their role in how foreign agents might be manipulating voters using their platforms, these companies have a vested interest in proving their desire to see the Trust Project succeed.
The trick now is determining if users will do the work of clicking on the indicators to verify the source of the information and any inherent bias it might carry. How these efforts might affect the quality of news online will be an interesting development to observe as it unfolds.