Restoring
trust
in the news

“Fake News” has made it into our everyday vocabulary during the past months, and fighting it has become the objective of many.

But is it really sufficient to target incorrect information, or do we instead need to restore general trust in the media?

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Restoring<br/> trust<br/> <span class="blue">in the news</span><br/>

Trust and the media, a broken relationship

The past months have triggered a broad discussion about so called "Fake News", messages that - often unrelated to reality - make their way through the world and become part of people's decision-making process. Quickly, that term is now used to damage unwanted messages, no matter if they are right or wrong. While this phenomenon is indeed worth targeting, like many initiatives that have been launched, there are key reasons why traditional media have lost their previous standing as trustworthy news sources.

Let's begin with some statistics: a recent Gallup study shows that between 1972 and 2016, the number of Americans who say to have "a great deal" or a "fair amount" of trust in the mass media has eroded continuously from 72% to 32%. The numbers don't look much different elsewhere, for example, in 2015, more than 60% of Germans stated in an Infratest Dimap poll that they have little to no trust in the media.

Results of a 2016 Gallup study on Americans' trust in the mass media

 

These numbers confirm that "Fake News" - both in the real and the abused sense - is growing on fertile grounds of deep mistrust in the traditional media. Trying to tackle the issue just on the end of "Fake", as many initiatives do, likely won't do much to fix the problem.

At verimedia, we think that the right approach needs to be positive: instead of only flagging the bad apples, we should encourage more trees to produce good fruit: news that people begin to trust again.

We urgently need this to re-strengthen decision-making processes in our democratic societies, which simply cannot exist without good and trusted information. If we lose reliable information sources, our democracies will erode and ultimately disappear.


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The
Challenges
DIFFICULT TIMES FOR THE MEDIA
With shrinking advertising revenue and circulation, exposed to heavy competition from often free online sources, good journalism has become a rarity. It takes considerable effort to produce news that help people understand what is happening in the world, instead of just documenting events. More often than not, traditional media are no longer able to verify information and put it into context, making it difficult for readers to form an opinion.
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Difficult times for the media

Revenues no longer support good journalism

The funding model for important news sources, particularly newspapers, journals and magazines, traditionally the strongholds of in-depth coverage of events, is mostly broken. With the constant reduction of physical distributions into an ageing reader base, and the loss of advertising revenue, traditional funding has eroded. That loss is only partly compensated by online subscriptions and browser ads. For the past decade, journalists have constantly made it onto the lists of "most endangered jobs", and many of those that remain are no longer employed, with the ability to work diligently on important stories, but rather work as freelancers under heavy pressure to produce content, being paid less and less money for their work. In TV broadcasting, the largest budgets and advertising revenues are directed towards high profile entertainment shows and sports events, with news budgets stagnating or shrinking.

The primary victim of this dynamic is quality and depth, with many consequences:

  • events are just covered as they come. For example, reporting someone's tweets requires little to no effort beyond writing a few paragraphs - evaluating context and consequences takes time. Too often the latter no longer happens due to time and funding constraints, or it happens too late and only in media reaching fewer people;
  • content from official and commercial sources is often republished without much scrutiny, and by that, journalists and news outlets are becoming PR helpers rather then informers who provide review and context:

What also sometimes negatively affects long-term credibility of news sources is the avoidance of representing facts impartially before presenting an opinion. Despite some immediate benefits, it leads to an erosion of their credibility with their audiences.

verimedia sees journalism as a service to society

Ultimately, we at verimedia are convinced that consistently good journalism is not feasible under the current economic conditions with just a few high-profile exceptions. Quality and diversity can only be maintained if an increasing number of people understand that research and analysis is hard work that needs to get paid, likely by a combination of subscriptions and donations. As much as we accept that museums, theaters, universities and other cultural institutions need to be seen as charitable activities worthy of our support, we should do the same with quality journalism.


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NEWS OUT OF THE BLUE
The internet is a place where sites spring up daily, providing "news" abundantly. Some are honest and offer high quality information, others are trying to support their funders' agenda by "creating" or distorting the truth, and some just publish statements to generate advertising revenue. Without guidance, average users have no way to tell if what they are reading is the truth or not.
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News out of the blue

The return of (global) village gossip

Before the arrival of the printing press, "news" were primarily local and regional, driven mostly by gossip making its way across the village and its surroundings. With the arrival and widespread distribution of newspapers, and later radio and television, this changed completely: news became goods manufactured and distributed by a relatively small number of sources.

Now, the internet has brought back the age of gossip, which is no longer confined to well-identifiable tabloids and the yellow press. Instead, users live in their own (global) village, with preferred news sources, social media circles propagating the mostly conforming world views of their friends, and no way to judge if what they read is fact-based and balanced. For those who don't make a deliberate effort, a very distorted view of the world forms.

The truth: up to the highest bidder

On the other end of the spectrum are interest-driven media: they are funded not only by readers and ads, but by individuals or institutions with a vital interest in promoting a specific message leading to a targeted outcome. They select, skew and ignore facts not based on lack of time and effort, but deliberately to deliver their “pre-shaped” world view. At best, they just select facts, ignore context to push an opinion, at worst they fabricate messages entirely. The internet has made it infinitely easier for these kind of activities to be set up and promoted.

On top of that, with revenue generated by clicks on social media sites, completely fact-free content has become a new way of earning money, as a few kids in Macedonia demonstrated last year. These "news", while only clickbait, were shared many ten thousand times, influencing people and their view of the world.


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The
Approach
01
A "GOOD JOURNALISM" MANIFESTO
Together with journalists, media organizations and other experts, we develop a simple manifesto of good practices, covering relevant aspects of factuality, context and completeness. These standards are public and written in a way applicable for most forms of journalism.
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A "good journalism" manifesto

The verimedia manifesto (first draft)

Good journalism requires more than just a report of events, particularly when it comes to the political, societal or scientific arena. Without checking and documenting sources, without creating context and putting things into perspective, without critically checking statements and spin, it is impossible for readers, listeners and watchers to use media output to their benefit. These are the elements covered by the verimedia manifesto.

  1. Strive for reproducible accuracy
    • Name and identify all relevant sources. Exceptions apply where anonymity is required to protect sources (see “Anonymous sources” below);
    • Aim at referencing all sources in a way that enables recipients to identify, and if publicly available, retrieve that source without effort;
    • Verify core elements of a piece’s statements with additional sources or – if impossible – check plausibility;
    • Separate facts from opinion by identifying both clearly.
  2. Provide immediate context for your audience
    • Put core statements and data into current and historical context to clarify relevance and importance;
    • Explain potential consequences;
    • Research and quote contradicting evidence or relevant statements.

Here are a few examples of what the above suggestions could mean:

  • Mention name and role of a person in a way that the person is identifiable*;
  • When quoting scientific publications, mention organization/author(s), journal and include links;
  • When drawing from PR statements or similar sources, clearly identify the nature of the source;
  • For news agency sources: fully verify content or mark as “unverified”;
  • Quote all data source(s) and provide links;
  • Accurately transport the content of the original source, e.g.
    • don’t distort data by suggestively selecting a certain scale or date range;
    • don’t quote out of context.
  • Put actions reported on (e.g. scandals, statements, etc.): in context with previous actions of others (e.g. answer to “how normal is this behavior?”)
  • For scientific findings or new products, evaluate and discuss relevance, novelty, and contradicting evidence;
  • For all content, clarify relevance and possible positive and negative effects for readers;

Special cases

  1. Anonymous sources*

Even though it is unavoidable and important to work with anonymous sources in some cases, particularly in investigative journalism, special caution is warranted, by following these rules:

  • Identify the nature of the message as in headline/first paragraph (e.g. using “rumor”, “Anonymous Hill source says”)
  • Verify status and role of a person using public sources before quoting anonymously;
  • Verify facts using other sources or original documents provided by source (including evidence check for tampering);
  • Verifying the track record of a source to gauge credibility, and, where possible, include in article;
  • Check validity/plausibility of statements with additional, possibly quotable sources;
  • Offer an opportunity for comment to key targets affected by the publication, if feasible.
  1. Portraits/Essays/Comments

While there is much more room for creative freedom when writing/producing with more depth, the application of the above principles are still relevant, particularly when it comes to identification and validation of sources and the creation of context that become the underlying foundation of the piece.

Please help us improve the manifesto

The above is a first draft of the manifesto, and it is by no means perfect yet. Please highlight issues, suggest improvements, and send us your comments. The more feedback we receive, the better verimedia becomes.


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02
WE LOOK FOR COMMITMENTS
The objective of verimedia is to work with as many journalists and media institutions as possible to get commitments to the verimedia manifesto. On the other hand, verimedia commits to actively communicating that good journalism we need to keep our democracies alive requires sufficient funding beyond what is commercially feasible.
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We look for commitments

verimedia engages the media

Given the important role of our media as an important pillar of a democratic society, verimedia wants to engage with as many journalists and media organizations as possible. We would like to encourage them to embrace their importance in the public decision-making process, instill the right sense of responsibility, and their support in making our manifesto and reviews as good, fair and meaningful as possible.

A push for news foundations with mixed revenue models

With very few exceptions, producing good journalism while making profits consistently are becoming mutually exclusive. We therefore encourage media institutions to reorganize in the form of foundations, establishing a mixed revenue model built on subscriptions, advertising revenue and donations. This reality also needs to be communicated in a way that a broad audience understands that the necessary information supporting our democratic decision-making comes at a price.

How to commit to the manifesto?

Committing to the verimedia manifesto is easy. By signing up at the bottom of our page, individual journalists can agree to commit to the verimedia manifesto in their future work. The same applies to entire news organizations. The consequences are that we will emphasize those sources with a commitment when labeling and reviewing news, demonstrating that they are striving to provide the journalism we need. There are no further requirements for a commitment, and no cost associated with it.


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03
WE REVIEW AND RATE NEWS
The verimedia team reviews news based on the manifesto's criteria and posts results online. The cumulative ratings of individual authors and media organizations create a proactive, forward-looking quality indicator.
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We review and rate news

verimedia reviews news using the manifesto

Using the manifesto as a base, and applying a transparent rating scheme, relevant articles are reviewed and rated on a 1 to 10 scale for factuality and context. This rating and the rationales behind are accessible online. A preliminary draft of such a review is shown here.

Cumulative ratings are forgiving

After a journalist or a media organization has received a sufficient number of individual ratings, these form a cumulative quality rating that can be used independently, providing an indicator of how to value yet unrated content from that source. Cumulative ratings are forgiving, as the algorithm values more recent content higher. If a journalist or a media organization improve the quality based on adherence to the verimedia manifesto, this will show quickly.

The verimedia rating scheme (draft)

Facts

Primary facts (in headline or first paragraph)

Point value

verifiably correct

 

  • with source attribution

10

  • without source attribution

8

unverifiable (for special situations see "anonymous sources" section

 

  • with source attribution

5

  • without source attribution

2

verifiably incorrect

0

 

Context

Primary content (in headline or first paragraph)

Point value

Core message put in relevant context

 

  • to verifiable source/scientific evidence/standard evidence/other similar events or circumstances

8-10

  • to unverifiable other anecdotal evidence

5-8

Not put in context where context exists and is relevant

0

 

Anonymous and Unverifiable Sources

These articles have an initial "Fact" value < 5 (maximum achievable=10)

Point value

Headline and first paragraph correctly attributes unverifiable nature of content

+2

Status and credibility of key source(s) has been verified and sufficiently described

+2

Other verifiable sources are used to create plausibility/verification around key statements

+2

A comment opportunity has been offered to the key target(s) of the content

+2

 

Important: the verimedia rating does not review opinions

We consider it important that news sources represent differing opinions, and therefore, we do not rate them. A conservative position, when based on journalism meeting the standards of factuality and context, is as relevant as a liberal one. We firmly believe that mistakes undermining the credibility of news sources are equally made on all ends of the spectrum of opinions.

Can you rate news for facts and context?

During the design phase of this project we have been asked many times: is it even possible to rate news based on facts and context delivery, or is what we call "facts" so subjective that it becomes impossible? There are two answers to this question: on the margin, there is of course always an element of subjectivity when assessing the quality of an article based on those two criteria. However, when it comes to the current problems of journalism, subjectivity quickly become irrelevant, as problems with both facts and context are so blatantly obvious that we can say: you absolutely can rate it.


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04
DOWNLOAD THE BROWSER PLUGIN
verimedia's browser widget (shortly available for Chrome, Firefox, Edge and Safari) provides a quick and easy-to-understand pictogram next to news, search results and news links in social media. With this, it becomes effortless to judge the trustworthiness and quality of a news source.
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Download the browser plugin

The verimedia plugin catches most news links

To help users of online media to easily judge content, verimedia takes an active approach that does not rely on the collaboration or action of individual sources or social media sites. Instead, users can install a small browser plugin that scans content for news and assigns the verimedia rating.

verimedia's browser widget (shortly available for Chrome, Firefox, Edge and Safari) provides users with a quick and easy-to-understand pictogram next to news articles, search results and links to news in social media. With this, it becomes effortless to judge the trustworthiness and quality of a news article or source.

Suchresultat mit Overlay

An efficient solution requiring no effort by social media sites

By scanning the user's browser window before displaying it, the verimedia plugin can catch much more than a website operator could accomplish. It is also much faster in labeling content after it appears, an important element in our fast-moving world. This is what it does:

  • Search results: if a particular URL is in the list of reviewed news or sources, the verimedia indicator (red, orange, green) will show how trustworthy this source is;
  • News and news aggregation sites: the verimedia indicator shows for each article, author and source (for aggregation sites);
  • Social media: the verimedia indicator is displayed next to accounts with news content, but also next to external links leading to news sources.

Plugin download (coming in April 2017)

The first beta versions of the verimedia plugin will be available in April 2017 for download here. They can be installed in most browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Edge, Safari) with a simple click of a mouse. The plugin does not collect any personal information.

Please sign up for our newsletter to be notified as soon as the plugin is released.


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Why are we doing it?
Democracies only function if voters can make well-informed decisions. Once we lose the ability to "know" and "understand", they are ultimately doomed, and votes are bought by the people with the largest budgets who can afford to define their version of "truth."
Who are we?
The people behind verimedia have no financial interest or political agenda, and do not work in or for the media. We are citizens with a vital interest in ensuring that the news we receive is trustworthy and helpful in making decisions about the future.
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Who are we?

A charitable effort

verimedia is a politically and economically independent initiative. It is currently being set up by forming non-profit organization in a number of countries, initially the United States, the UK, France and Germany, with more to follow. During this phase, it is supported by IIER, the Institute for Integrated Economic Research, a non-profit organization registered in the United States and the Netherlands. It is further supported by individual donations and a large number of volunteer hours. Please find below a number of people supporting the project.

verimedia has no direct ties to media organizations, is independent and politically neutral. Please contact us if you would like to join our team.

People (coming soon)


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Support us!

verimedia needs your help in many ways.
Become a member, a reviewer, commit to our manifesto as a journalist or a media organization,
or donate to make it happen faster and better.

Support us with your donation

verimedia is a project entirely built by volunteers who are convinced that democracies need strong and independent journalism accessible to everybody. In the internet age, readers also need guidance on the quality and trustworthiness of their sources. Please help us grow and improve our effort with your contribution.

Currently, your donations are received by the Institute for Integrated Economic Research (IIER), a registered charity with the IRS in the United States (EIN: 27-3932630) and a tax exempt foundation in the Netherlands (Register ID: 857251247). All funds received through this form will be fully allocated to the verimedia project.


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Please use this form if you would like to contribute to the verimedia project. We are looking for people supporting our local organizations, reviewers, and any other support you can provide to our important cause.

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Commit

Thank you for your interest in committing to a high standard in journalism. Soon, we will have our extensive form with all the necessary details online. For now, please provide your contact details so we can be in touch shortly.

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Copyright Information

Unless otherwise noted, all materials contained in this site are copyrighted and may not be used and changed. 

The materials contained in this site may be downloaded, linked or copied provided that ALL copies retain a copyright notice referencing to verimedia. No material may be modified, edited or taken out of context such that its use creates a false or misleading statement or impression as the positions, statements or actions of verimedia.

The information contained on this website is provided for informational purposes only and is general in nature. It is not intended to constitute advice and does not substitute for obtaining advice from a qualified advisor.

While we try to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this website, we expressly disclaim all liability in respect to any errors, omissions or changes of such information as well as in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on any or all the contents of this website.

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Contact information

Switzerland:
IIER (Institute for Integrated Economic Research)
P.0. Box 506
CH-8706 Meilen/Switzerland
+41 44 925 1112

United States:
Institute for Integrated Economic Research
90 State Street Suite 700 Office 40
Albany, NY 12207
(617) 648 0212


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