In the era of big media, our conceptions of trust were tied up in news organizations. If a story was on page 1 of The New York Times, that fact alone conjured up different associations of quality, truthfulness, and trustworthiness than if it were on page 1 of The National Enquirer. Those associations weren’t consistent — many Fox News viewers would have different views on the trustworthiness of the Times than I do — but they still largely lived at the level of the news organization.
But in an era of big-media regression and splintered news — when news can be delivered online by someone you hadn’t even heard of 10 seconds ago — how does trust evolve? Does it trickle down to the individual journalist: Do we decide who to trust not based on the news organization they work for but on the reporter? Are there ways to build metadata around those long-faceless bylines that can help us through the trust thicket?
It’s a question that’s getting poked at by Journalisted, the project of the U.K.’s Media Standards Trust. You can think of Journalisted as an involuntary Facebook for British reporters — at the moment, those who work for the national newspapers and the BBC, but with hopes to expand. It tracks their work across news organizations, cataloging it and drawing what data-based conclusions it can.
So if you run across an article by Richard Norton-Taylor and have pangs of doubt about his work, you can go see what else he’s written about the subject or anything else. There’s also a bit of metadata around his journalism: A tag cloud tells you he writes more about the MI5 than anything else, although lately he’s been more focused on NATO. You can see what U.K. bloggers wrote about each of his stories, and you can find other journalists who write about similar topics. And for journalists who choose to provide it, you can learn biographical information, like the fact that Simon Rothstein is an award-winning writer about professional wrestling, so maybe his WWE stories are more worth your time.
It is very much a first step — Journalisted is not yet the vaunted distributed trust network that will help us decide who to pay attention to and who we can safely ignore. The journalist-matching metadata is really interesting, but it still doesn’t go very far in determining merit: No one’s built those tools yet. But it’s a significant initiative toward placing journalists in the context of their work and their peers, and in the new splintered world, that context is going to be important.
Our friend Martin Moore of the Media Standards Trust dropped by our spare-shelved office not long ago and I asked him to talk about Journalisted. Video above, transcript below.
Journalisted is essentially a directory of all the journalists who are published in the UK national press and on the BBC, and in the future other sites as well. Each journalist has their own profile page, a little bit like Facebook or LinkedIn, but the difference being that that page is automatically updated with links to their most recent articles. It has some basic analysis of the content of those articles, so what they write an awful lot about, and what they don’t. And, it has links to other information to give context to the journalist, so if they have a profile in the paper, or if they have a Wikipedia page, or if they have their own personal blog or website. And as of a couple of weeks ago, they can add further information themselves if they’d like to.
If you’re interested in a particular journalist and you want to know more about what they write about, again to give you context, then obviously that’s a very good way of doing it. It tells you if they come from a particular perspective, it tells you if they’ve written an awful lot about a subject. If you, for example, read a piece strongly recommending against multiple vaccinations, you might want to know if this person has a history of being anti-multiple vaccinations, or if they have particular qualifications in science that make them very good reporting on this issue, etc. So, it gives you that context.
It also, on a simpler level, can give you contact details. So, where a journalist has published their email address, we automatically serve it up. But equally they can themselves put in further contact information, if you want to follow up on a story. And we also have some interesting analytics which lead you on to journalists who write about similar topics, or if you read an article, similar articles on the same topic. So again, it’s to contextualize the news and to help you to navigate and have more reason to trust a piece.
Initially, there was a bit of shock, I think. An awful lot of journalists don’t expect the spotlight to be turned around and put on them, so we had some very interesting exchanges. Since then, it’s now been around long enough that a lot of journalists have actually started to almost use it as their online CV. They’re adding their own stuff, they’re asking us to add stuff on their behalf, and they’re seeing that it can be of benefit to them, either with sources, so that they can allow sources to contact them, and to engage with them, or, equally, with employers. Quite a number of journalists have told us that editors have looked at their Journalisted profile and made a decision as to whether to offer them some work.
There are a number of goals. The initial one that we’re working on now is to flesh out the profiles much more. So to give people much more depth around the person so that they can have a much better impression as to who this journalist is, what they write about, their qualifications, the awards that they’ve won, and the books that they’ve written, etc. So, really flesh out the individual profile.
Following on from that, we’d love to expand it. We’d love to bring in more journalists, more publications — if possible, even go international. Our hope is that in the future, it will start to become a central resource, if you like, a junction point, a linked data resource, so that it will be the place you’ll come to from either the news site, from a blog, from wherever, in order to find out more about a journalist.