NewsTrust Aims To Go Deeper Than Digg

NewsTrust Aims To Go Deeper Than Digg

The site is looking to judge news articles online by quality, rather than simple popularity, with a more finely grained evaluation of news stories than one gets from the gladiatorial thumbs-up, thumbs-down votes by which stories live and die on Digg.

A little over a month ago, NewsTrust began a public beta test, hoping to help Internet users find good journalism online. This might seem like reinventing the wheel, given the excess of news aggregation sites like Digg, Findory, Newsvine, and Reddit, not to mention Google News, Yahoo News, bookmark sharing sites like Del.icio.us, and millions of blogs that point to news stories.
But NewsTrust isn't necessarily looking for the most popular stories online; it aims to present the best journalism. "Because journalism is so important for democracy, for citizens to make informed decisions," explains Fabrice Florin, executive director of NewsTrust, "we want to offer a way to identify quality journalism based on standards other than popularity. That's not to say that popularity doesn't have a role, but as a primary measurement, it weakens the effectiveness of the material that get promoted."

For Florin, a former journalist who spent twenty-five years at technology companies like Apple and Macromedia, this is an issue of critical civic import. "I really think that the mission of this initiative has to remain nonprofit, even though it makes the job a lot harder for us," he explains. "That's partly because we really want to put the public interest first, rather than the shareholders interest, and we couldn't do that in a for-profit."

Whether or not you share Florin's view about the necessity of a vibrant Fourth Estate as a safeguard for democracy, it's clear that NewsTrust and Digg, for example, promote different types of stories.

The top story on NewsTrust at the time this article was written was "Majority of Americans View Media Coverage of Iraq as Inaccurate." The top story on Digg in the last 24 hours at the time this article was written was "Ten Things I Wish I Knew Before I Switched to OS X."
NewsTrust, in essence, aims to counter the fascination of the inclusive crowd -- picture Britney Spears on a Linux-based iPod sold by Microsoft -- with the wisdom of the vetted crowd.
NewsTrust's news-rating system is based on 10 inputs supplied by users: recommendations, balance, context, evidence, fairness, importance, information, sources, style, and trust. The result is a much more finely grained evaluation of news stories than one gets from the gladiatorial thumbs-up, thumbs-down votes by which stories live and die on Digg.

"The average consumer, due to the Internet, is deluged every day by a tsunami of information that makes it difficult for a single individual to filter and sort," says Florin. "By joining forces with other individuals and adopting a set of principles to filter the news together, we think we can be more effective as a community than we can individually."

The blogosphere was supposed to save the world from the lazy, partisan mainstream media, but as Florin sees it, blogging is more focused on conversation than qualitative analysis.
What's more, says Florin, many bloggers make insufficient effort to be objective. "The issue you have is many bloggers are absolutely fantastic journalists," he explains, "and many are professional journalists, but you've got some folks who are just getting started and don't necessarily have the discipline to review journalism they comment on with rigor. Often they let their own opinions interfere with the evaluation of the story."

NewsTrust hopes to avoid politicized story evaluation by encouraging transparency among its news reviewers. On ideologically divisive stories that might encourage interest groups to game the rating system, Florin says, NewsTrust plans to convene an ad hoc panel that adequately represents views across the political spectrum to arrive at a fair rating.

Whether Florin's crusade to wean the Internet community from junk news will prove more successful than ongoing efforts to improve the American diet remains to be seen. It's arguable that Digg and its ilk represent democracy in action rather than its downfall. Nonetheless, Florin appears to be committed to his cause.

"We would like to offer the equivalent of a Weight Watchers for information, to help each of us balance our news diet over time," Florin explains in a quote posted on the NewsTrust site. "For example, future versions of NewsTrust could check if you've been viewing too many partisan opinions or entertainment news. We might encourage you to balance your diet with more factual information, more international coverage, or read more viewpoints that you don't agree with. Tools like these can help each of us broaden our perspective, become more discriminating thinkers, and make more informed decisions."

If that sounds a bit like an admonition to eat your vegetables, well, open wide.

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