At a time when the public’s trust in news is declining in much of the world, the news industry is launching a new set of transparency standards that help people easily assess the quality and reliability of journalism.
Leading media companies representing dozens of news sites have begun to display Trust Indicators, which provide clarity on the organizations’ ethics and other standards, the journalists’ backgrounds, and how they do their work. These indicators, created by leaders from more than 75 news organizations as part of the nonpartisan Trust Project, also show what type of information people are reading—news, opinion, analysis or advertising.
Each indicator is signaled in the article and site code, providing the first standardized technical language for platforms to learn more from news sites about the quality and expertise behind journalists’ work. Google, Facebook, Bing and Twitter have all agreed to use the indicators and are investigating and piloting ideas about how to best to use them to surface and display quality journalism.
The Trust Project is led by award-winning journalist Sally Lehrman of Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, and hosted by the Center. The German press agency dpa, The Economist, The Globe and Mail, the Independent Journal Review, Mic, Italy’s La Repubblica and La Stampa, Trinity Mirror and The Washington Post are among the companies starting to go live with Trust Indicators this month. The Institute for Nonprofit News developed a WordPress plug-in to facilitate broader implementation by qualified publishers.
An international consortium of news organizations is collaborating in the Trust Project. Their work is essential at a time when only one third of Americans polled by Gallup say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in news media. In Europe, similar problems are emerging. In the United Kingdom, only 43 percent of people in a 2017 Reuters Institute survey said they agreed that the news can be trusted, a significant drop from the prior year.
“In today’s digitized and socially networked world, it’s harder than ever to tell what’s accurate reporting, advertising, or even misinformation,” Lehrman said, in a news release. “An increasingly skeptical public wants to know the expertise, enterprise and ethics behind a news story. The Trust Indicators put tools into people’s hands, giving them the means to assess whether news comes from a credible source they can depend on.”
The Trust Project’s origins
Spurred by editors concerns about the impact of technology on news quality, in 2014, Lehrman began building a network of news companies willing to take steps to instill greater trust in the journalism they produced. In a process she led, hosted by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, senior news editors created the Trust Indicators based on in-depth user interviews, combining user needs with journalism’s highest values.
“News consumers need a way to tell media companies what we expect from them, the types of news we can count on and will pay for. The Trust Indicators set standards for media outlets and allow newspeople to commit to good faith reporting that’s worth buying,” said Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist, whose philanthropic fund was an early supporter of the Trust Project. The project is funded by the Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund, Google, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund and the Markkula Foundation.
The eight core indicators are:
- Best practices: What are your standards? Who funds the news outlet? What is the outlet’s mission? Plus commitments to ethics, diverse voices, accuracy, making corrections and other standards.
- Author expertise: Who reported this? Details about the journalist who wrote the story, including expertise and other stories they have worked on.
- Type of work: What is this? Labels to distinguish opinion, analysis and advertiser (or sponsored) content from news reports.
- Citations and references: For investigative or in-depth stories, greater access to the sources behind the facts and assertions.
- Methods: Also for in-depth stories, information about why reporters chose to pursue a story and how they went about the process.
- Locally sourced? Lets people know when the story has local origin or expertise.
- Diverse voices: A newsroom’s efforts to bring in diverse perspectives.
- Actionable feedback: A newsroom’s efforts to engage the public’s help in setting coverage priorities, contributing to the reporting process, ensuring accuracy and other areas.
“At Mic, credibility is our currency,” said Mic publisher Cory Haik, in the release. “The most important thing we can do as news producers is have the trust of our audience, and by offering transparency into our reporting process, we’re taking important steps in building and maintaining that trust. We’re happy to be a part of an initiative that has a focus so deeply aligned with our efforts.”
Other organizations including BBC and Hearst Television collaborated in defining the Trust Indicator editorial and technical standards, and in developing the processes for implementing these. Haymarket Media Group will be implementing the Trust Indicators on three brands by the end of the year. While some outlets already disclose information included in the Trust Indicators, the new system standardizes this information across the industry, making it easier for both the public and news distribution platforms to find it.
A new level of transparency for news search
At the same time that news sites are bolstering their transparency through the Trust Indicators, digital platforms aim to incorporate them into the way they display news stories. The Trust Indicators are integrated into the latest Schema.org technical vocabulary release with new language to capture news organization publishing principles and news content types, among other concepts. Additional vocabulary is to be proposed in our ongoing collaboration.
“Quality journalism has never been more important,” said Richard Gingras, vice president of news products at Google, in the release. “Partnering with the Trust Project since its conception has been of significant importance to Google, in large part because we believe the indicators can help our algorithms better understand authoritative journalism—and help us to better surface it to consumers. We hope to use the Type of Work indicator to improve the accuracy of article labels in Google News, and indicators such as Best Practices and Author Info in our Knowledge Panels. We believe this is a great first step for the Trust Project and look forward to future efforts as well.”
In early October, Facebook began to test a new feature to give people additional context on the articles they see in News Feed. They have now begun displaying the Trust Indicators through this module, initially rolling them out to a small group of publishers, with plans to expand more broadly over the coming months.
“The Trust Indicators will provide a new level of accessibility and insight into the news that people on Facebook see day in and day out,” said Alex Hardiman, head of news products at Facebook. “We view this as a great next step in our ongoing efforts overall to enhance people’s understanding of the sources and trustworthiness of news on our platform.”
A growing number of news outlets are expected to display the indicators over the next six months, with a second phase of news partners beginning implementation work soon.