McGuire on Media

NewsTrust.net offers interesting glimpse of future on two fronts

NewsTrust.net is one of those eye-opening experiments with social networking that leaves an old newspaper guy shaking his head in awe. Fabrice Florin, the enthusiastic and genuine executive director and founder of NewsTrust.net, stopped by the Cronkite School the other day to talk about educational partnerships with his fascinating experiment. Our own Dan Gillmor had invited Fabrice, and few better know what’s hot in the new media world than Dan.

To fully appreciate NewsTrust you need to knock around the site. Simply put, this entry into crowd sourcing tries to measure quality of journalism and not the sheer popularity of stories.  While digg and reddit measure popularity of stories, NewsTrust asks sophisticated reviewers to assess the actual journalistic quality of stories. 

This is not a small, timid undertaking. The people Florin is seeking as evaluators are not going to be casual readers.  Everybody can read the rated stories on the site, but to complete a review of a story a reader is going to have to be smart and willing to invest a considerable amount of time in the process.

This excerpt of Florin’s slide show is an example of the scorecard a reviewer completes to appropriately assess the quality of a story. A careful look reveals this could be a template for training in a newsroom and a wonderful way to teach journalism students. Forcing students to evaluate trust, information, fairness, sources, context, evidence, importance, balance, style, knowledge and accuracy could consume an entire fruitful semester and create some wise, successful students.

In fact, it was as a news literacy training template that NewsTrust created the most excitement for me. We often worry our students are too disconnected from the news. Getting students involved with the NewsTrust process would force them to connect with significant stories. It would also expose them to all the correct news values as they reviewed stories. Educationally, the sites offers some exciting possibilities.

I am a little more reserved about the potential of NewsTrust as a social networking or crowd sourcing tool. Of course, I think it is great that someone wants to make journalism quality the focus of this sort of site. That part is long overdue and every positive effort that gets journalists juiced again about quality is automatically a good thing.

Something that’s been bugging me for several months prevents me from going overboard in my enthusiasm. At practically every turn recently, elitism is frightening me. From circulation numbers to Pro Publica to MinnPost to anecdotal evidence, it seems as if journalism’s long slide from populist news vehicles to elitist products for the well-educated has become precipitous.

When I looked at the scorecard a reviewer has to complete for NewsTrust the elitism concern flashed in neon for me. Only the few are going to want to undertake that. They are going to be quality readers with time to spare to enhance the public weal.  God love them, but they will be the “public television” elite. I have profound fears quality journalism as lubrication for the democracy of the masses is doing the dinosaur trick.

Fortunately, Fabrice Florin is way smarter than I am and he sees this train coming too. When I posed a question to him about the power going to “those who show up” his empathy for the problem was obvious.  He talked about the need to “make it a lot easier for people to participate.” He even  mused about using more of a gaming approach with rewards, or perhaps using quizzes to engage more people more often.  It was obvious he doesn’t think entertaining his participants is a sin.

The news literacy potential for Florin’s creation is obvious. If NewsTrust can make that gaming-like adjustment and get more people of all ideologies and all demographic groups involved in rating the quality of news, it could have a double winner.

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