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Media We Can Trust

CONVERSATIONS ACROSS THE DIVIDE

YES! Magazine Graphic :: Conversations Across the Divide :: Illustration by Alex Mathers/istock

“Trustworthy journalism should help us keep each other honest and help get us past these reptilian instincts for conflict. It helps us discern the truth. It leads us to embrace change.”

Fabrice Florin of NewsTrust.net. Photo by Kaizar Campwala
Fabrice Florin of NewsTrust.net
Photo by Kaizar Campwala

Americans don’t trust the media, and with good reason. Newspapers and television networks have been cutting investigative reporting budgets for decades, while making up for it with partisan punditry that does little to help untangle tough issues like the housing crisis, global warming, and the Iraq War. No surprise, then, that in a recent Harris poll more than half of Americans said they don’t trust the press.

Where can these skeptical folks go for information? Increasingly, they’ve been turning to the Internet, where there’s been an explosion in new media ventures in the past five years, including individual and collaborative blogs, hyperlocal news sites supported by small businesses, open-publishing sites for grassroots news, and member-funded sites employing professional journalists. Several of the biggest political stories from the past year have come out of the blogosphere and independent web journalism, including Talking Points Memo’s revelation of political firings of U.S. Attorneys, and the Huffington Post’s OffTheBus report of Barack Obama saying Americans cling to guns and religion because they’re bitter.

But the question remains: how do you separate the accurate and well-researched from the partisan-driven infomercials?

NewsTrust.net, an innovative project created by former journalist and web developer Fabrice Florin, relies on the savvy of its readers to find news stories that stand up to critical scrutiny. Each story listed on the site includes a link to its original posting, plus a composite user evaluation: Is the author fair? Is the article based on factual evidence or hearsay? Are there multiple named sources or are they anonymous? As NewsTrust users from across the political spectrum answer these questions and add their own comments, they contribute to a public conversation built on a shared appreciation of journalistic quality.

To make sure that conversation stays civil, NewsTrust has departed from typical Web formats. There is no place to comment, because, as Florin puts it, “There’s no incentive for people to behave well” when they comment.

NewsTrust also takes the time to learn about its users. The site’s staff googles each new reviewer to find out if he or she is a notorious “troll,” a “flamer,” or someone who disrupts internet civility, and then boils the information down to an initial rating score.

“On a fundamental level,” says Florin, “trustworthy journalism should help us keep each other honest, and help get us past these reptilian instincts for conflict. It helps us discern the truth. It leads us to embrace change, and to develop humility, respect, curiosity for factual information, and the willingness to contemplate new solutions to old problems.”

Media critic and author Jeff Cohen says the linked nature of online news is inherently well-suited to projects like NewsTrust. “Internet-literate folks know to be skeptical of attack pieces. ... That’s why Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly-type demagoguery flourishes on TV and radio, but not as easily on the Internet where you have to produce your sources, and link to them.”

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