Rory Cellan-Jones

Credible news - who decides?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 19 Aug 08, 16:15 GMT

Do we really need another news aggregator to follow in the footsteps of Google News, Digg, Reddit, Netvibes and the rest? Well, the founders of NewsCred have decided we do - and they reckon they've got two killer angles which will make their service, launched today, into a winner. Simplicity and credibility are what they're pushing.

NewsCred logoShafqat Islam, one of NewsCred's founders, believes all the other news aggregators are just too complicated for most users. "My parents and my friends aren't using the likes of Digg or Netvibes," he told me on the phone from Geneva where he is based.

But what marks NewsCred out is the way it encourages users to rate the "credibility" of the stories it pulls in from a wide variety of news sources and blogs - from the BBC to Al-Jazeera, from the Huffington Post to Techcrunch. At the bottom of each story are these two options: "If you think this article is credible and quality content, please credit this article." Or: "If you think this article is biased or factually inaccurate, please discredit this article." Now sites like Digg - and every kind of consumer review site - encourage users to give the thumbs up or down to various kinds of content. But NewsCred claims it is going much deeper, building up a detailed picture of the credibility of news organisations and even individul reporters.

It's too early to say how well or badly the likes of the BBC will come out of this - at the moment there are obviously very few NewsCred readers, and they are mostly giving "credits" rather than "discredits" so far. But in the longer term this is an interesting, if frightening, development for a professional journalist.

When I started in this trade a quarter of a century ago, seasoned journalists were confident about two things. They knew which stories were important, and they had strong opinions about which news sources were credible. A veteran editor lectured me long and hard about the dubious standards of one international news agency, never to be used as a single source by the BBC.

But in the internet age, a lot of that confidence is seeping away. Editors are increasingly casting a glance at the "most-read" lists on their own and other websites to work out which stories matter to readers and viewers. And now the audience - which used to know its place - is being asked to act as a kind of journalistic ombudsman, ruling on our credibility.

In one way, this is obviously a positive development, putting more pressure on news organisations to improve their professional and ethical standards, and to listen to the people who consume their products. My worry is that sites like NewsCred will become playgrounds for lobby groups and obsessives on issues ranging from the Georgia conflict to the 9/11 conspiracy theories. Isn't it likely that those with passionate views will rush to judge the credibility of news stories according to their own prejeudices, while the rest of the internet population just won't bother?

Shafqat Islam is more optimistic: "Is it 'mob mentality or wisdom of the crowds'? We believe in the latter." And he also believes that once NewsCred gets critical mass, the judgements of its readers will matter to editors: "If a million come on and say Fox News or the BBC is not credible then we think that's worthwhile."

The new media blogger Jeff Jarvis asked earlier this week whether editors would become a luxury that the news industry could do without, relying instead on the internet audience to provide leads, correct errors, and generally do much of the work. But in some ways, I think editors are becoming more important. In a world where readers and viewers have huge quantities of news and opinion flung at them from every direction, there is also an ever greater demand for ways of working out what is important and what is credible. Should you rely on your fellow news consumers to tell you that on sites like NewsCred - or would you rather trust an editor?


  • Comment number 1.

    I think this idea will not work out at all. I agree with you Rory that it will be more of a judgment oriented meeting, more than anything else.

    I believe people who reads BBC News, the New York Times, the Times or Business Week (among other high credible sources of journalism) do not bother to check in websites like Digg or NewsCred. They trust the editorial staff from the newspapers / websites because they represent a highly trusted source of journalism. It is they work and they were taught how to do it right.

    Now I believe not all the interesting stories are discussed by those newspapers or websites (by a lack of time or just not important enough to interest a broad audience). This is where the likes of Digg and NewsCred can come in handy, with a search for a topic or just browsing through recent article. But do not misunderstand me, those sites do not come as a primary source of news.

    For the people who have never read the sources of news I mentioned earlier, the point of view might be completely different. But I am not the correct person to discuss this view.

  • Comment number 2.

    @Jary316 - Appreciate the comment. To address your point about people who read BBC, NYT or Times will not bother to check websites like NewsCred, I respectfully disagree. Even if those sites are their primary sources of news, having to go to each one individually gets cumbersome and we have a lot of users who've personalized their NewsCred site so they get only news from those sources. Leaving the credibility issue aside, its simply more efficient when compared to hopping from site to site.

    Rory and yourself both address valid concerns when it comes to the ability of readers to rate the quality of articles/journalists. There is no simple answer, but we want to build this platform to give newsreaders a voice. Perhaps every news reader won't be able to judge accurately, but it's important that they are given the chance. That is what democracy is all about.

    CEO NewsCred

  • Comment number 3.

    During and since the recent Lambeth conference, some of the reportage was more than enterprising with the facts available, with attempts to character assassinate the hapless Archbishop of Canterbury that were both offensive and unjustifiable.
    How good it would have been for there to have a news blog where the public might have such an opportunity to give offensive journalists a little feedback on the quality and credibility of their scribblings.
    NewsCred sounds like a good idea, and if it works it won't be easy to prevent its integrity from being compromised - but it's certainly worth making the effort.

    Bonne chance Shafqat!

  • Comment number 4.

    @JohnKeithK - thanks for the support. It's better to light one candle than curse the darkness, right? We'll give it our best shot!

  • Comment number 5.

    Probably the biggest issue I see with this is the image certain countries have of certain news organisations which will largely dictate whether they mark something as reliable or not.

    For example, there is a big proportion of Americans that think the BBC is British propaganda and completly discreditable, as where there is a large proportion of the British public that believe American news agencies like NBC are about as truthfull and believable as the X-Files.

    Surely this site will feed these kinds of people and place an un-realistic (perhaps not in the case of NBC) light on certain news agencies?

    Shafqat, how far are you prepared to go to moderate this?

  • Comment number 6.

    Will people vote an article as credible as in accurate and believable or as in do they agree with a partisan viewpoint? This might become most apparent with coverage of, say, the US election or climate change. Newsvine also includes ranking by most votes or comments. Neither approach automatically convinces me of articles credibility. I also don`t think most readers will have enough of a specialist background (on say a medical breakthrough) to know if information is accurate or not.

    All the user generated news sites have their flaws; Digg has a clique that essentially choose most of the front page stories; many users participate just for a good argument, a glorified HYS. What I like most about news sites is an ability to search by a particular topic or person, what I look for is as wide a range of sources as possible. But as anyone that`s browsed around blogs knows, what is judged credible is often a very subjective decision.

  • Comment number 7.

    What an excellent idea! It does strike me that the risk that this is hijacked by loonies and lobby groups is a real one, but I would hope the Newscred folks could come up with a way to reduce that risk if they think hard about it.

    There is an awful lot of news, mainly in the print newspapers, that is total tosh. I never buy newspapers any more now I have learnt, from many years' experience of reading stories about which I already knew something, just how full of inaccurate and biased drivel they really are.

    In answer to your question "would you rather trust an editor?", it depends on the editor in question, and I'm sure there are some very good ones at the BBC, but I wouldn't trust the average tabloid newspaper editor as far as I could spit. Newspapers write stories in a way that they think will sell papers, and accuracy comes way down their list of priorities.

  • Comment number 8.

    NewsCred will be an interesting experiment and I for one would like to be as optimistic as its creators.
    I signed up to post comments on James Reynolds China Blog. His Blog must attract one of the highest responses (I haven't checked) but I can't help wondering if it's popularity is down to a 'rent a mob' mentality. 'This may seem a ridiculous suggestion, even an outrageous comment, but look at the expat crowds the Chinese managed to produce during the latter stages of the worldwide Olympic Torch Relay. The same thing could happen online. I realise 'Reynolds China' is not news it's a 'blog' in the same spirit as 'from our own correspondent, but try explaining that to some of the respondents.

    Let's see what happens on NewsCred when negative news reports appear about China. Objective news reports could be targeted by the 'rent a mob' bloggers and turned into a referendum based on nationalist sentiment. Similarly single interest groups may also be prepared to call out their battalions if NewsCred ever became in any way influential. Think of the 'pro-life' brigade and you can brainstorm the other usual suspects for yourself.
    Would NewsCred be prepared to publish results based on geographical responses, say using data from IP addresses ?

  • Comment number 9.

    another useless news site offering the same drivel as the rest, which when you think about it could be copyright infringment as they are offering the exact same format and services as another, oh i can't wait to see what comes of this

  • Comment number 10.

    How is this more than just another fix for factoid junkies? "Aggregators" is too dignified a term; better to call them "news regurgitators" because they don't actually add any new news about what is going on in the world.

    Worse, Newscred thinks that by subjecting news sources to a perpetual popularity contest it is somehow determining who is and who is not credible. There is plenty of solid research to show that people read the news sources which already reflect their own beliefs; so if most people are right-wing nutters then Newscred stats will show right-wing media to be the most credible. With apologies to H.L. Mencken, nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the average news consumer.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think that there could be a real risk of crazies and radical groups commenting based on their personal views rather than the factual basis of an article. However, I also believe that the larger the pool of readers, and specifically the larger the distribution of readers across the world, the more fair and accurate such a rating system will be. When you have the whole world commenting, the influence of, say, a radical conservative Christian group will be mitigated by the fact that they are only a minuscule amount of the rating pool.

  • Comment number 12.

    A reasonable idea would be to allow individual users to be given "reliability" ratings themselves. That way, a person whose record shows that they do not credit anything - ie. loonies or extremists - can be flagged by the wary community as being a bit, well, biased. The more unreliable a person is marked as, the less (un)credibility he or she can give a newsarticle.

    This again is open to abuse but I'd hope that it'd even out if newscred ever gets a large userbase.

  • Comment number 13.

    CrimsonBlack, while this sounds like a good idea (and I understand the intention behind it), it sadly would not work.

    It is not possible to both have users rate the credibility of articles and then use these ratings to decide who is a trustworthy user, as any pattern that users have of rating articles might be accurate. So they mark everything they read as poor credibility? Perhaps they are right.

    The only way to decide if that user is biased is to know for certain how credible some articles are, except that breaks the fundamental aim of the site. One can't even take the majority vote for an article and say that is the ground truth to check users' bias against, as it may be a large number of biased users making that one unbiased user look bad.

    I can't really see a win for this approach.

  • Comment number 14.

    ...I realise now that you actually suggested that the community flag them as being dodgy, which makes more sense in some ways.

    The real question is this one of balance. Just voting for or against articles relies on the assumption that most of your users are rational and unbiased, NOT that they average each other out. Lots of biased people do not average out to make an unbiased opinion unless you further assume that the number of people biased against or for something is in proportion to its worth. I doubt this is the case.

    To be more positive, something like Wikipedia is able to be almost completely open because rants and bias can be checked for objective truth. Thus, the way for news to be correctly voted as credible would require voters to give an objective reason why they think something is not credible. But I guess that rules out "because I just don't trust them," which newscred seem to think worthy.

  • Comment number 15.

    And who decides on the credibility of the people who vote on the credibility of the news?

    If I don't know who's voting, then I don't know if I can trust them. On the other hand, I keep coming back to the few news services I trust because time and patience has allowed me to form an evidence-based view of how trustworthy they are.

    At best, NewsCred will turn journalism into a popularity contest. At worst, it will become a magnet for conspiracy nuts and a breeding ground for national prejudices.

  • Comment number 16.

    The credibility of any news source is diminished when poor language skills lead to inaccuracy.

    "Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty wishes TV star Jade Goody well after being diagnosed with cervical cancer."

    So Shilpa has cancer too, now?

  • Comment number 17.

    Small point, but isn't Netvibes a startpage, in the same vein as iGoogle or PageFlakes, a tool that lets a user aggregate content via feeds or widgets, but, unless I've missed something, it doesn't aggregate any content itself.

    It's great that the audience are empowered to choose what, when and how they read news, and that they can rate it according to their likes, and quality of the content - in their opinion.

    But the best people to make editorial judgements are professional editors, who do it day in day out.

    The public's opinion matters of course, but then a large number of people read tabloids everyday, that don't give hard news such focus.

    Even on harder news sites, the most popular articles can be 'lighter stories' or showbiz related.

    There is no answer, I can't see there ever being a perfect system.

    It all depends on the particular audience of a chosen aggregation system getting a strong-enough user-base. Best of luck.

  • Comment number 18.

    #16 That's just so petty. The meaning is clear.

  • Comment number 19.

    #18 - if it was an everyday conversation on the street I would agree with you. But this is a major worldwide news outlet and there is no excuse for that sort of ambiguity and poor style.

    The meaning is only clear because you already know the context. If I had never heard of either person, I would not think that Jade was the ill one.

  • Comment number 20.

    Hi #Shafqat with regard to your comment about using Newscred to personalise your news on one site.

    What would you say that Newscred brings to the table over RSS and a feedreader like Google Reader?

    RSS (even without something like Google Reader) is free and requires no sign-up - the first major barrier surely?

    I've also noticed that you don't get the full article, so to rate the credibility you still have to visit the source to get the full story.

    I think I'll stick with good old RSS and a daily trip to the BBC :)

  • Comment number 21.

    This is a fascinating thread, I'm glad our project is sparking such interesting debate. I understand the skepticism - there are a lot of challenges, but we'll never know until we try. The current news media industry is struggling for many reasons. Rather than complain about, we decided to give users a platform to voice their opinions, and see if a credibility-based, metric-driven system can work.

    To answer some queries above, we are thinking about implementing a system to rate the raters. As a first step, making a user's past voting transparent will help. Also, we tend to give news readers more benefit of the doubt than most. People have specialized knowledge, local knowledge etc. You might not believe in the concept of 'wisdom of crowds', and we're out there trying to prove it works with hard data. Let's give it some time... Its better to light one candle than to curse the darkness!

    @atomicjeep - the answer is simple. Most mainstream news readers don't know what RSS is and don't have the time or knowledge to set up Google Reader. I don't know a single person amongst my friends and family who do. If you are able to customize your own RSS feeds, I'd say you are in the tiny minority. Thanks for checking us out though!

  • Comment number 22.

    > My worry is that sites like NewsCred will
    > become playgrounds for lobby groups and
    > obsessives on issues ranging from the
    > Georgia conflict to the 9/11 conspiracy
    > theories.

    That's not nearly a tenth of the potential problem. The term "credibility" has been rebaptised by "NewsCred" to actually mean "a measure of whether people like or dislike an article"; therefore, the *real* danger is that only articles liked by the unintelligent majority will get to see the light of the day.

  • Comment number 23.

    With all due respect, newscred, a scheme of "rating the raters" merely makes the problems more complex and doesn't address the issue of veracity in any particular news story. Who will rate those who rate the raters?

    "It's better to light one candle than to curse the darkness," makes for a cute phrase that has now become a cliche. But doing something for the sake of being seen to act rather than doing nothing is not always the best strategy. To light a candle in a dark room full of gunpowder is not usually advisable.

  • Comment number 24.

    Horrible, horrible site which has nothing but its own interests in mind. Clicking through from headlines to vote is slow. Yes, I did bother before writing this, no-one else will. The site exists not for any noble cause but to serve up ugly, slow to load, advertising infested versions of content that it does not own. The founder is bragging on the internet about handling his own PR and that you Rory, the BBC, has written about him. Exactly, he needs the BBC but to answer your question, we do not need him.

  • Comment number 25.

    @24 - Did you really go to the site before writing? If so, you would have noticed that there are NO advertisements on the site. We don't make a cent from the site yet. However, you seem to think it exists 'not for any noble cause but to serve up advertising-infested' pages. I wonder what site you visited?

  • Comment number 26.

  • Comment number 27.

    The large colour advert for a car that was on the link above has been removed which I think is a mistake. I checked several other pages on Newscred from the Independent. It is only the page that I posted the link for above that has had the advert removed, all the other pages still feature the ad.

  • Comment number 28.

    @andrewmmarting - we've never run ads on our site. furthermore, we certainly didnt go and remove the ad on the link you published. please contact me directly at shafqat at newscred dot com if you still believe there are ads. The only possibility is if a feed provider has embedded an ad directly into their RSS feed, in which case we certainly don't have the right to remove that. I'll repeat again that we dont have, and have never had, any advertisements.


  • Comment number 29.

    Unbiased news reporting is only possible in any regard in institutions ilke the BBC, which aren't beholden to shareholders - but even they rush some stories out now to get the scoop, without checking the facts properly - you only have to watch a fast moving story mutate on the RSS feeds (the google desktop reader keeps the old ones).

    This service will allow the herd mentality to credit stories which appeal to the herd, which means that it represents another great way of the majority ignoring things they don't want to hear, so those stories which are true, but sound unlikely, will be shouted down. And these could well be the ones we want to read. Black Swan, anyone? It's often the case that visionaries who know where something will end up are the only voices shouting it... just look at the media's 180 volte-face on the house market, they're all total gloom now, and loving it, but stories warning about the bubble were few and far between for the last 10 years.

    Bad idea. I don't rate these types of sites, it's better to actually find some of the base facts out for yourself. And if you can't, ignore the story entirely - it's probably something on the other side of the world anyway - and look to your local area and be involved in its' goings on.

  • Comment number 30.

    Funny, that's not what you told the Guardian. You told it you currently make money from advertising.

  • Comment number 31.

    @andrewmmartin Please read the Guardian article carefully. We said our MODEL is advertising. However, it is not yet implemented. We have no problem with stating that we plan on making money with targeted advertisements. However, your claim that it is 'ad-infested' is simply impossible since we have not yet implemented advertising. Simple as that.

    Why don't you just get in touch with me? This will be my last response as I've tried to explain this to you rationally many times already.


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