20200
P
1
20100
R  E
2
2070
D   I   C
3
2050
T   I   O   N
4
2040
S   F   O   R   J
5
2030
O  U  R  N  A  L
6
2020
I  S  M  2  0  2  0
7

Fighting misinformation requires journalism, not secret algorithms

“Watching Silicon Valley exercise news judgment has been like watching Walter Cronkite try to write code in Python.”

Every journalistic enterprise these days must have technological competence — which is why news companies increasingly rely on technology companies to keep their products up to speed. The year 2020 will test the inverse: Will technology companies finally rely on journalists to help them with their news judgments?

Under enormous political pressure and after complaints by advertisers worried about brand safety, digital platforms have begun to admit responsibility for the misinformation they provide their users and the embarrassment they cause their advertisers. Their efforts have had limited success. Technology companies have no competence in the journalistic work needed to identify purveyors of misinformation, whether through foreign disinformation campaigns or health care hoaxes.

Watching Silicon Valley exercise news judgment has been like watching Walter Cronkite try to write code in Python. Facebook banned Infowars, but left up dozens of similar accounts. It banned Natural News, but hundreds of similar health care hoax sites still use Facebook to peddle falsehoods such as that fruit pits cure cancer and vaccines cause autism. In 2013, YouTube’s chief business officer, Robert Kyncl, was interviewed on the Russian-government run RT network during its celebration on becoming the first news organization with one billion views on YouTube. Mr. Kyncl told the RT anchor that the network succeeded on YouTube because it provided “authentic” content and not “agendas or propaganda.” In fact, RT was founded to deploy disinformation to spread divisiveness in the U.S. and Europe and to publish Putin-supporting falsehoods such as about Syria and poisonings of Russians in the West.

When the platforms try to promote reliable sources and suppress others, the fact that they put their thumbs on the scale for reasons they refuse to explain will always leave them open to accusations of bias. The ethos of journalism is that more information, transparency and disclosure are virtues, with the corollary that operating in secret will never establish credibility or trustworthiness. Digital platforms instead operate using secret algorithms, including for constructing social media feeds and displaying search results.

Four companies have created trustworthiness indicators for news websites: Facebook, Google, Twitter, and NewsGuard. Publishers have no way of learning their secret trust score from the Silicon Valley companies. NewsGuard’s journalistically trained analysts use nine basic, apolitical criteria of journalistic practice to rate news sites on a scale of 1 to 100, with each site getting a Nutrition Label explaining the ratings to news consumers. The nine criteria — such as whether the site discloses its ownership, has a corrections policy and treats the difference between news and opinion responsibly — are fully explained. NewsGuard analysts call for comment when a news website looks like it might fail on any of the criteria. (Algorithms don’t call for comment.) More than 500 news websites have improved one or more of their practices after engaging with NewsGuard — unlike an algorithm, we hope news sites will game our system.

Gallup measured how people think about the difference between the black-box technology platforms use and journalism. Its researchers asked who consumers would trust to give them information about the reliability of news websites. Ninety percent trusted ratings more when done by “trained journalists with varied backgrounds” than by Silicon Valley companies.

The best hope for reducing the role of misinformation is if the platforms rely on transparent journalism instead of on their own secret algorithms. Microsoft took the lead this year by making NewsGuard ratings and Nutrition labels available to its users, including through its new Edge mobile browser.

One reason to hope Silicon Valley will do better in 2020 is that companies in other industries are embarrassing them by taking steps to fix the problem the platforms caused. Aside from Microsoft, NewsGuard is in advanced discussions with internet service providers and mobile providers about how they can deliver a safer internet to their users by providing information about the reliability of news sites. Ad agencies use NewsGuard to help advertisers run their ads only on trustworthy news websites.

Journalists have one belief in common: More information is better than less. Silicon Valley companies operate under the opposite ethos, with their highest priority keeping their secret algorithms secret. News consumers deserve better, and it seems that in 2020 they will finally get it.

L. Gordon Crovitz is co-CEO of NewsGuard and former publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

Every journalistic enterprise these days must have technological competence — which is why news companies increasingly rely on technology companies to keep their products up to speed. The year 2020 will test the inverse: Will technology companies finally rely on journalists to help them with their news judgments?

Under enormous political pressure and after complaints by advertisers worried about brand safety, digital platforms have begun to admit responsibility for the misinformation they provide their users and the embarrassment they cause their advertisers. Their efforts have had limited success. Technology companies have no competence in the journalistic work needed to identify purveyors of misinformation, whether through foreign disinformation campaigns or health care hoaxes.

Watching Silicon Valley exercise news judgment has been like watching Walter Cronkite try to write code in Python. Facebook banned Infowars, but left up dozens of similar accounts. It banned Natural News, but hundreds of similar health care hoax sites still use Facebook to peddle falsehoods such as that fruit pits cure cancer and vaccines cause autism. In 2013, YouTube’s chief business officer, Robert Kyncl, was interviewed on the Russian-government run RT network during its celebration on becoming the first news organization with one billion views on YouTube. Mr. Kyncl told the RT anchor that the network succeeded on YouTube because it provided “authentic” content and not “agendas or propaganda.” In fact, RT was founded to deploy disinformation to spread divisiveness in the U.S. and Europe and to publish Putin-supporting falsehoods such as about Syria and poisonings of Russians in the West.

When the platforms try to promote reliable sources and suppress others, the fact that they put their thumbs on the scale for reasons they refuse to explain will always leave them open to accusations of bias. The ethos of journalism is that more information, transparency and disclosure are virtues, with the corollary that operating in secret will never establish credibility or trustworthiness. Digital platforms instead operate using secret algorithms, including for constructing social media feeds and displaying search results.

Four companies have created trustworthiness indicators for news websites: Facebook, Google, Twitter, and NewsGuard. Publishers have no way of learning their secret trust score from the Silicon Valley companies. NewsGuard’s journalistically trained analysts use nine basic, apolitical criteria of journalistic practice to rate news sites on a scale of 1 to 100, with each site getting a Nutrition Label explaining the ratings to news consumers. The nine criteria — such as whether the site discloses its ownership, has a corrections policy and treats the difference between news and opinion responsibly — are fully explained. NewsGuard analysts call for comment when a news website looks like it might fail on any of the criteria. (Algorithms don’t call for comment.) More than 500 news websites have improved one or more of their practices after engaging with NewsGuard — unlike an algorithm, we hope news sites will game our system.

Gallup measured how people think about the difference between the black-box technology platforms use and journalism. Its researchers asked who consumers would trust to give them information about the reliability of news websites. Ninety percent trusted ratings more when done by “trained journalists with varied backgrounds” than by Silicon Valley companies.

The best hope for reducing the role of misinformation is if the platforms rely on transparent journalism instead of on their own secret algorithms. Microsoft took the lead this year by making NewsGuard ratings and Nutrition labels available to its users, including through its new Edge mobile browser.

One reason to hope Silicon Valley will do better in 2020 is that companies in other industries are embarrassing them by taking steps to fix the problem the platforms caused. Aside from Microsoft, NewsGuard is in advanced discussions with internet service providers and mobile providers about how they can deliver a safer internet to their users by providing information about the reliability of news sites. Ad agencies use NewsGuard to help advertisers run their ads only on trustworthy news websites.

Journalists have one belief in common: More information is better than less. Silicon Valley companies operate under the opposite ethos, with their highest priority keeping their secret algorithms secret. News consumers deserve better, and it seems that in 2020 they will finally get it.

L. Gordon Crovitz is co-CEO of NewsGuard and former publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

Masuma Ahuja   Slower, quieter, more measured and thoughtful

Logan Jaffe   You don’t need fancy tools to listen

Nathalie Malinarich   Betting on loyalty

Dannagal G. Young   Let’s disrupt the logic that’s driving Americans apart

Jake Shapiro   Podcasting gets listener relationship management

Heidi Tworek   The year of positive pushback

Kathleen Searles   Pay more attention to attention

Hossein Derakhshan   AI can’t conjure up an Errol Morris

Joe Amditis   Collaborative journalism takes its rightful place at the table

An Xiao Mina   The Forum we wanted, the forum we got

Lauren Duca   The rise of the journalistic influencer

S. Mitra Kalita   The race to 2021

Laura E. Davis   Know the context your journalism is operating within

Brian Moritz   The end of “stick to sports”

Jasmine McNealy   A call for context

Kristen Muller   The year we operationalize community engagement

Catalina Albeanu   Rebuilding journalism, together

Doris Truong   The year of radical salary transparency

Irving Washington   Leadership isn’t something you learn on the job

Tanya Cordrey   Saying no to more good ideas

L. Gordon Crovitz   Fighting misinformation requires journalism, not secret algorithms

Don Day   Respect the non-paying audience

Sarah Alvarez   I’m ready for post-news

Sarah Marshall   The year to learn about news moments

Sarah Schmalbach   Journalist, quantify thyself

Jeremy Gilbert and Jarrod Dicker   A call for collaboration between storytelling and tech

Brenda P. Salinas   Treating MP3 files like text

Mike Caulfield   Native verification tools for the blue checkmark crowd

Felix Salmon   Spotify launches a news channel

Cristina Kim   Public media stops trying to serve “everybody”

Mary Walter-Brown and Tristan Loper   Power to the people (on your audience team)

Craig Newmark   Formalizing newsrooms’ battle against disinformation

Carrie Brown-Smith   Engaged journalism: It’s finally happening

Joni Deutsch   Podcasting unsilences the silent

Nico Gendron   Make better products if you want to reach Gen Z

Jeff Kofman   Speed through technology

Stefanie Murray   Charitable giving goes collaborative

Elizabeth Hansen and Jesse Holcomb   Local news initiatives run into a capital shortage

Ben Werdmuller   Use the tools of journalism to save it

Greg Emerson   News apps fall further behind

Christa Scharfenberg   It’s time to make journalism a field that supports and respects women

Carl Bialik   Journalists will try running the whole shop

Seth C. Lewis   20 questions for 2020

Margarita Noriega   The platforms try to figure out what to do with single-subject newsrooms

Monique Judge   The year to organize, unionize, and fight

Millie Tran   Wicked

Alana Levinson   Brand-backed media gets another look

Barbara Gray   Join local libraries on the frontlines of civic engagement

Mariana Moura Santos   The future of journalism is collaborative

Adam Thomas   The silver bullet

Ernie Smith   The death of the industry fad

Beena Raghavendran   The year of the local engagement reporter

Rachel Davis Mersey   The business of local TV news will enter its downward slide

Michael W. Wagner   Increasingly fractured, but little bit deliberative

Simon Galperin   Journalism becomes more democratic

A.J. Bauer   A fork in the road for conservative media

Peter Bale   Lies get further normalized

Linda Solomon Wood   Everyone in your organization, moving toward a common goal

Fiona Spruill   The climate crisis gets the coverage it deserves

John Garrett   It’s the best time in a century to start a local news organization

Errin Haines   Race and gender aren’t a 2020 story — they’re the story

Alexandra Borchardt   Get out of the office and talk to people

Rachel Glickhouse   Journalists get left behind in the industry’s decline

Matthew Pressman   News consumers divide into haves and have-nots

Geneva Overholser   Death to bothsidesism

Richard J. Tofel   A constraint of the reader-revenue model emerges

Madelyn Sanfilippo and Yafit Lev-Aretz   News coverage gets geo-fragmented

Anthony Nadler   Clash of Clans: Election Edition

Logan Molyneux and Shannon McGregor   Think twice before turning to Twitter

Zizi Papacharissi   A president leads, the press follows, reality fades

Bill Grueskin   Our ethics codes get an overhaul

Julia B. Chan   We 👏 take 👏 breaks 👏

Nushin Rashidian   Are platforms a bridge or a lifeline?

Sara K. Baranowski   A big year for little newspapers

Mario García   Think small (screen)

Rachel Schallom   The value of push alerts goes beyond open rates

Jeremy Olshan   All journalism should be service journalism

Mira Lowe   The year of student-powered journalism

Rick Berke   Incoming fire from both left and right

Raney Aronson-Rath   News deserts will proliferate — but so will new solutions

Monica Drake   A renewed focus on misinformation

Kerri Hoffman   Opening closed systems

Alice Antheaume   Trade “politics” for “power”

Francesco Zaffarano   TikTok without generational prejudice

Whitney Phillips   A time to question core beliefs

Tom Glaisyer   Journalism can emerge newly vibrant and powerful

Lucas Graves   A smarter conversation about how (and why) fact-checking matters

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   The business we want, not the business we had

Emily Withrow   The year we kill the news article

Josh Schwartz   Publishers move beyond the metered paywall

Talia Stroud   The work of reconnecting starts November 4

Nikki Usher   All systems down

M. Scott Havens   First-party data becomes media’s most important currency

Bill Adair   A Nobel Prize, a Brad Pitt film, and a Taylor Swift song

Tamar Charney   From broadcast to bespoke

Dan Shanoff   Sports media enters the Bronny era

Joanne McNeil   A return to blogs (finally? sort of?)

Meg Marco   Everything happens somewhere

Jennifer Brandel   A love letter from the year 2073

Helen Havlak   Platforms shine a light on original reporting

Steve Henn   The dawning audio web

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, collaboration in a time of state attacks

Cory Haik   We’re already consuming the future of news — now we have to produce it

Heather Bryant   Some kinds of journalism aren’t worth saving

John Keefe   Journalism gets hacked

Knight Foundation   Five generations of journalists, learning from each other

Pablo Boczkowski   The day after November 4

Nicholas Jackson   What’s left of local gets comfortable with reader support

Meredith Artley   Stronger solidarity among news organizations

Elizabeth Dunbar   Frank talk, and then action

Tonya Mosley   The neutrality vs. objectivity game ends

james Wahutu   Western journalists, learn from your African peers

Jim Brady   We’ll complain about other people living in bubbles while ignoring our own

Jakob Moll   A slow-moving tech backlash among young people

Colleen Shalby   Journalists become media literacy teachers

Cindy Royal   Prepare media students for skills, not job titles

Jonas Kaiser   Russian bots are just today’s slacktivists

Imaeyen Ibanga   Let’s take it slow

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   A changing industry amps up podcasters’ ambitions

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting finally creates another mega-hit show

Ståle Grut   OSINT journalism goes mainstream

Victor Pickard   We reclaim a public good

Annie Rudd   The expanded ambiguity of the news photograph

Sarah Stonbely   More people start caring about news inequality

Matt DeRienzo   Local broadcasters begin to fill the gaps left by newspapers

Kourtney Bitterly   Transparency isn’t just a desire, it’s an expectation

Alfred Hermida and Mary Lynn Young   The promise of nonprofit journalism

Sonali Prasad   Climate change storytelling gets multidimensional

Candis Callison   Taking a cue from Indigenous journalists on climate change

Kevin Douglas Grant   The free press stands against authoritarians’ attacks on truth

Joshua Darr   All that campaign cash will make the media’s problems worse

Marie Gilot   This is fine

Sue Robinson   Campaign coverage as test bed for engagement experiments