How can newsrooms and journalists take ownership of promoting trust and transparency in their work? How can we reinforce the responsibility of journalists towards confronting falsehoods and engaging the public in identifying, and fighting disinformation? What role should platforms have in facing these challenges? What digital tools are the most effective for achieving these goals?

Global Editors Network
Feb 21 · 10 min read

These are questions not only discussed in the journalistic community, but also a focal point within the Global Editors Network’s programme of a Media Literacy Toolkit for Newsrooms. In a series of unconferences, and one final hackathon, GEN will bring forward a toolkit to be implemented for free by newsrooms all around Europe.

After a first gathering in Brussels in late 2018, the second round of discussions happened in Vienna on 23 January. A group of media professionals from different corners of Europe shared their expertise, which will help lead way to define the actual needs of European newsrooms.

As misinformation is spreading rapidly in the digital landscape, the winds blow hard on media publishers. With random actors, often disguised as traditional media, spreading wrongful information with the likes of deep fakes or through digital platforms such as social media or via message apps, lately a debate about how publishers are to regain the trust of their audience has arose. In order to help both journalists and their audience become more media literate, a change needs to take place. That’s why GEN sees a great need to build a toolkit.

Sarah Brandt, representative from the company NewsGuard, was one of the participants at the Vienna unconference. NewsGuard is a browser extension verifying if news sites are reliable with the help of what they call a ‘Nutrition Label’.

Their tool is one of many inspirations when defining what the GEN Media Toolkit for Newsrooms could include, together with tools from organisations such as Factmata or TinEye.

Read more about NewsGuard’s work in the media literacy landscape, and their visions for the future of trusted digital journalism further down in this article.

During the GEN Media Literacy Unconference in Vienna the discussion came to following conclusion: The media literacy toolkit being constructed by the Global Editors Network should be a long and sustained effort to support trust and truth in media by empowering news producers and news users. After the Vienna unconference the main tasks for the upcoming, and final, Lisbon unconference are:

  • Map, classify and use the existing media literacy tools.
  • Think of ways offline to engage with senior citizens.
  • Add a gamification factor to create an age-appropriate and easily accessible way to engage with media literacy for children and young adults.
  • Focus on different tools for different kinds of journalists and make the editorial process as transparent and accessible possible.

Learn more about the Global Editors Networks programme to build a Media Literacy Toolkit for Newsrooms here. If you’re interested in participating, or know someone who has expertise on the matter, do not hesitate to contact us to get involved. Follow #GENMediaLit for an updated view on the programme, and all its get togethers, over the year.

Verification will be one of three key elements at this years’ GEN Summit. Learn more about the sessions and programme on our dedicated Summit website. The Global Editors Network does not endorse any single actor, but is rather interested in the debate and developement in the media literacy discussion.

NewsGuard: Verification made simple for recognising trusted news sites?

Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz are two of the people reacting and raising awareness in the media literacy discussion. They started the for-profit initiative NewsGuard last year, a browser extension verifying the sources of information with a colour ranking and what they call a ‘nutrition label’ for identifying secure publishers. In the past few months, the company, and their browser plugin, has gained major media traction. Their criteria for labelling publishers has been debated, though it has created a buzz in the media community.

GEN: In your own words, what is NewsGuard, and how does it work?

NewsGuard: NewsGuard is a human-based approach to fighting misinformation and restoring trust in the media. NewsGuard provides credibility ratings and detailed “Nutrition Labels” for thousands of news and information websites. They are conducted by trained analysts with diverse backgrounds, who review and describe the websites’ adherence to nine journalistic criteria. NewsGuard’s ratings are currently available through NewsGuard’s browser extension for Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari. When a user installs the extension, NewsGuard’s red and green badges appear next to links in users’ search engine results and social media feeds, providing a quick indication of whether the site maintains basic standards of accuracy and accountability. Users can hover and click on the badges to read more about each rating. The ratings and write ups are also available on mobile devices through the Microsoft Edge mobile browser.

Part of the NewsGuard plugin is that it’s designed to use ‘Nutrition Labels.’ What does that entail?

NewsGuard’s nine criteria spell out the specific practices of a publisher that cause it to receive a green or red NewsGuard rating, and the Nutrition Labels provide an added layer of depth to those ratings. Each Nutrition Label provides detailed information about the site’s ownership and financing, typical content, editorial practices, history, and transparency about its ownership, leadership, and content creators. A Nutrition Label can be used as a research reference for users seeking background information about a news outlet, providing an alternative to the unvetted information found on Wikipedia.

How do you ensure your information regarding a publisher is correct, and what are the main criteria you’re looking at when reviewing a site? How often do you update reviews about a specific publisher?

We follow a rigorous, standardized process for every site we rate. A trained NewsGuard analyst first spends hours reading the site’s content, researching its history, and conducting interviews with the site’s major editors. The analyst then rates the site using NewsGuard’s criteria and writes a review explaining that rating, including an extensive list of cited sources. The review is edited and fact-checked by at least two, often four, other editors. Our criteria range from whether a site uses deceptive headlines to whether it clearly labels advertising, but the two criteria most important in determining a site’s rating are whether a site has repeatedly published false content and whether it uses responsible practices for gathering news and presenting information. Ratings are not static, and we update our reviews every three months, or sooner, if a publisher undergoes a major change or if we learn that one of our reviews contains an error (in which case we promptly and transparently append our review with a correction notice).

How many news publishers are currently under your watch? How did you choose, and are you planning on adding more?

We have rated more than 2,000 publishers, representing 96% of the news that is viewed and shared online in the U.S. We are now expanding to the U.K., France, Germany, and Italy and will rate the publishers that account for 90% of engagement in each country by April. We also developed a SWAT team effort that has enabled us to identify new sites that suddenly begin trending and spreading false information, and then quickly issue ratings before the sites can do more damage. New websites crop up every day, so we will continue to monitor and rate websites as they develop and spread online.

Why is the focus on media literacy important for you, and what is the goal for NewsGuard?

Misinformation has proliferated precisely because media literacy skills have not kept up with dramatic changes in technology. It is easy for purveyors of false information, misinformation, and disinformation to publish on digital platforms. It is hard for readers or viewers to know which news websites are generally reliable and which are not. When people are subjected to various forms of misinformation online, there is a risk that they will believe and spread false information. As Gallup research has shown, when people have access to NewsGuard’s ratings and write ups, they are much more likely to believe and share news from green-rated sites, but much less likely to believe or share information from red-rated sites. In addition to providing this information, NewsGuard is partnering with hundreds of librarians and educators across the U.S., and soon in Europe, who can effectively champion and spread media literacy messaging. NewsGuard’s goal is to make media literacy so widespread that, in the future, news consumers reflexively ask probing questions about their sources of information without needing guidance and support from NewsGuard.

How will you evolve — what’s on the roadmap for the next few years?

Our next area of focus is geographic expansion. Meanwhile, we’re constantly looking to improve our media literacy offerings by partnering with more educators and librarians and developing additional resources. And we continue to push for further integration with technology platforms until, one day, NewsGuard’s rating are ubiquitous across all social media and search platforms.

How does the NewsGuard plugin potentially benefit news organisations (or the media landscape)?

The business model of journalism is broken, and it has been for years. Publishers that create short, sensationalized, and “clickbait” articles are rewarded with more traffic, and in turn, more advertising revenue, while news organizations that spend time and resources diligently reporting and uncovering unreported stories are not proportionately rewarded for their efforts. NewsGuard’s ratings can help mend that flaw in the business model by rewarding sites that uphold high journalistic standards and driving traffic away from those that spread flagrancies.

NewsGuard uses journalism to fight misinformation and spread news literacy. How is this beneficial for journalists and media professionals on one hand, and for the users on the other?

People are overwhelmed by the abundance of publishers that exist online. Without proper information about the distinctions between each publisher, they may hear one bad story and be inclined to distrust all media unilaterally. But if we provide users with more information about their sources of news, we help them become savvier news consumers and better-informed citizens. We believe that by learning more about the organizations providing their news, consumers will develop a renewed trust and respect for the media.

Can you see a change in how media adapts to battling mis/disinformation, comparing today and a few years back?

Before high-profile examples of misinformation during electoral campaigns in Europe and the U.S., the word “misinformation” was hardly in anyone’s vernacular. Today, it is ubiquitous. Concern about misinformation has come to the forefront, and there is significant proliferation of media literacy efforts. Preexisting media literacy organizations, which previously found news literacy a hard pitch to sell, have been flooded with interest and support. Despite all the harms caused by misinformation, it has, at the very least, enabled us to have serious conversations about addressing it through media literacy.

The browser extension is free, and you do not collect any personal data, how do you make revenue?

The NewsGuard rating is also included on social media, such as Twitter.

NewsGuard was founded with investor funds from groups including the Knight Foundation and Publicis Groupe. Microsoft also offered early support by sponsoring NewsGuard’s news literacy outreach efforts through its Defending Democracy Program. As for ongoing revenue, NewsGuard licenses its ratings and Nutrition Label reviews to major technology and social media companies, which integrate NewsGuard’s badges and ratings into their platforms. Microsoft has already signed up and integrated NewsGuard onto its Edge mobile browser, and NewsGuard is in continued talks with all the major search and social platforms. NewsGuard also offers a second product, called BrandGuard, which is a white list of NewsGuard green-rated sites that advertising companies can license to ensure their advertising is only on appropriate sites.

You are licensing your ‘White List’ of legitimate news sources. Does the NewsGuard list differentiate in any way from other companies working towards media literacy objectives? If so, how? (Or if preferred: What makes you stand out from your competitors?)

In response to “what makes you stand out from your competitors?”: NewsGuard is the first human-driven approach to evaluating the credibility of news at the level of the source, rather than the story. Facebook and other technology companies have employed fact-checking organizations to detect individual articles after they have spread on their platforms, but NewsGuard is the first company to offer a solution that is proactive, rather than reactive. We see other news literacy organizations not as competitors, but instead as partners, helping us spread our tool and improve how we teach valuable news literacy skills to children and adults alike.

Steven Brill is a Journalist and Author — and Founder of Court TV, The American Lawyer Magazine, American Lawyer Media, Brill’s Content Magazine, Journalism Online, and The Yale Journalism Initiative.

Gordon Crovitz is a Journalist and Executive — Former publisher, editorial board member and opinion columnist for The Wall Street Journal, board member of Business Insider, editor or contributor to books published by the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation, founder of Factiva and co-founder of Press+.

Article written by: Jenni Karlsson

Global Editors Network

The Global Editors Network (GEN) is the worldwide association of editors-in-chief founded in 2011.

Global Editors Network

Written by

The Global Editors Network is the worldwide association of editors-in-chief and media executives. We foster media innovation and sustainable journalism.

Global Editors Network

The Global Editors Network (GEN) is the worldwide association of editors-in-chief founded in 2011.

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