- 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.
Shafqat 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?
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