How to debunk fake news and boost newsroom collaboration in one go?

With the first round of the French presidential election just a few days away, the collaborative platform CrossCheck, an initiative by First Draft News, initially between, Les Echos, France 24 The Observers and Les Décodeurs from Le Monde, is making sure that the democratic process is not tampered with by questionable news sources. This issue has reared its head yet again, and is a main concern for many news and media organisations during election time. So, how to combine the ongoing battles that are fake news and newsrooms collaboration? We asked Jenni Sargent, Managing Director of First Draft News and Sam Dubberley from Eyewitness Media Hub for their take on this.

As publications are trying to unite to increase the trust in the media which is on a serious low, and as everyone seemingly brushes up on the ins and outs of fact-checking, one platform has successfully been uniting the two: CrossCheck. CrossCheck, an initiative by First Draft, backed by Google News Lab, is a collaborative journalism project with the aim to bring together newsrooms across France and beyond to accurately report false, misleading and confusing claims circulating online.

It was launched with the French presidential election as its main focus and investigates stories, comments, images and videos about candidates, political parties and all other election related issues.

ProPublica’s Electionland, the collaborative initiative between several media organisations in the US ahead of the presidential election of November 2016, initially inspired Crosscheck. First Draft was actively involved in this initiative meant to monitor practical issues around voting during the election.

The platform CrossCheck and the very popular topics it is attempting to address – namely fact checking and reporting of dubious news – has been a polarising subject and has enjoyed quite a substantial coverage in the media since its launch in February.

Nieman Lab reported a few weeks ago that Google and Facebook alike joined the ranks of CrossCheck’s partners to further their effort in getting the fake news problem in the media under control.

Google announced it’s teaming up with media outlets from Agence France-Presse to BuzzFeed News to Le Monde on a countrywide fact-checking initiative the partners are calling CrossCheck. As a part of the initiative, Facebook is also working with news organisations to reduce the amount of misinformation and hoax stories from appearing on its platform, offering up tools like CrowdTangle to help monitor election-related posts on social media and focusing on other “media literacy efforts.” Nieman Lab

We asked a few questions to Jenni Sargent, Managing Director of First Draft News, the entity at the origin of CrossCheck and, Sam Dubberley from EyeWitness Media Hub, to try and understand how the platform has been faring all through the peak time of the French presidential campaigns, to get tips on newsrooms collaboration and to try and get a better grasp of whether the model can be replicable and fully implemented in the new media landscape or not.

We are just a few days away from the French presidential election, how has CrossCheck evolved since its launch late February?

CrossCheck was always designed to be a live newsroom laboratory. We have been fortunate therefore that the partners involved in CrossCheck have been able to adapt along the way. We have recently, for instance, started to create not just written articles for our site and for our partners to use, we have started to create video explainers which have proven to be popular and shared widely on social media and used by newsrooms involved in CrossCheck. The challenge ahead of us has always been how we get people to see our stories. Changes have been aimed to meet that challenge.

CrossCheck is meant as a tool for the public, to be better informed on sensitive issues with contradictory reports. How active has the general public been since the launch of the platform?

We have received many questions via the Hearken platform — over 250 to date. While not all of those have been in our remit — the French presidential election — many have and have led to use doing stories for instance.

We are now at over 120,000 likes on our Facebook page — which we’re pretty happy with — and many partners have used CrossCheck stories in their output such as the BBC, BuzzFeed, LCI (here and here), Ouest France or Rue89.

How did you bring publications such as Le Monde, BBC and Bloomberg , and many more, to collaborate with First Draft on the CrossCheck project? What would you advise for a seamless collaboration between newsrooms?

Collaboration requires hard work — it requires a catalyst and it requests a lot of effort. It also requires the right tools and for each and everyone partner to be willing to join in, to play their part. I’d say it’s worked well — there could have been improvements, but it works well. Having 12 editors embedded in the newsrooms were crucial — they are the cogs of the machine, without them it would have been much, much harder. But also what was so crucial was the good will of all the partners.

Some of CrossCheck’s partners

CrossCheck integrates quite a few third-party solutions, not only supporting collaboration but also functioning because of the synergy between several tools and actors. How did you find new tools and startups like Hearken to collaborate on the project?

We looked around for the best possible tools to meet our needs. Thankfully, many of these tools were very open to work with us — for discovery, for verification, for collaboration. It’s about constantly researching what’s out there, understanding what they do, what their limitations are and how they can fit into a workflow. It’s also about being prepared, in some cases, to adjust what you think the workflow will be to what the tools allow it to be. That’s a fine line — you don’t want the tools to dictate your workflow, but you also can’t be so stubborn to not adjust if the technology doesn’t allow you to do what you’d like to.

We have to build trust as an industry — and Crosscheck is just one of many ways that can be done — it has to be done.

Fake news and fact-checking are extremely buzz-worthy and, international issues. How do you see CrossCheck work with international newsrooms on a bigger scale?

That depends more on the newsrooms and their willingness to collaborate. There’s a need for collaboration in this sphere. Misinformation is too important to compete on, I would argue. So it behoves newsrooms to understand that they can collaborate on misinformation without losing their value as individual organisations. We have to build trust as an industry — and Crosscheck is just one of many ways that can be done — it has to be done.

What’s next for CrossCheck, First Draft and the collaborations between newsrooms?

We will go away and try to understand what we have done, what it means. We need to understand if projects like CrossCheck help fight misinformation, or if they hinder. We don’t have an answer to that yet. We need to think it through and work out if it helps.

David Dieudonné—Google News Lab

“With combined expertise from across media and technology, CrossCheck aims to ensure hoaxes, rumours and false claims are swiftly debunked, and misleading or confusing stories are accurately reported. With the French presidential election approaching, journalists from across France and beyond will work together to find and verify content circulating publicly online, whether it is photographs, videos, memes, comment threads and news sites.” (6 February 2017, Google Europe)

Helje Solberg—Norway’s VGTV / Faktisk

“Cooperation among the three most-read Norwegian news outlets digitally, who otherwise are rivals, highlights the the fact that the challenges are so fundamental that we have to cooperate.” (22 March 2017, Poynter)

Gaven Morris —Australian Broadcasting Corporation

“ABC News is delighted to be able to work with the academic community, as well as other groups and institutions, in this way. Sharing resources and collaborating on analysis and original research helps us better serve the broadest possible audience. Fact-check journalism is a great way of providing more of the essential context people need to help them fully understand the major stories and important issues of the day.” (14 February 2017, ABC News)
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