Imagine this: an unmissable notation on an article identifying all sources used within the story, naming all people involved in the creation process, clearly marking whether the article had a conservative or liberal bent and indicating to what degree the article is verifiably accurate.
That’s the kind of “radical transparency” Amy Webb of The Future Today Institute wants to make real.
“At my core, I’m an optimist. I do believe that we have the ability to create the futures we want. I believe I can do something to help create positive change,” she said. “If journalists can get their acts together and come up with a way to gain trust, then this is the time for our newsrooms to shine.”
It’s an idea she’s been touting at Online News Association conferences for the past few years, building with each year as new ideas and technologies come to light. She first suggested ways and methods to verify journalists and articles at the 2015 conference; in 2016 she floated the idea of using blockchain as a way to make that happen.
“I think the key here is developing a spectrum so that we define, maybe not just news organizations but the credibility of the story itself,” she said. “There are ways to use machine learning, generative algorithms, lots of techniques that exist that would allow you to ask a machine to do a read-through of a story and, assuming the system hadn’t been hacked … it could get a grade at the end, 100 percent verified.”
Even Breitbart, the notorious website formerly run by Steve Bannon, publishes accurate and truthful content “occasionally.” It just might be content that goes directly against a reader’s politics. The same is true of MSNBC – “a lot of people with different political ideologies and complain that the content is inaccurate, but factually it is correct, it just butts up against your political leanings.”
Webb has been calling for a kind of nutrition facts label for articles for some time now. “Every article would have a transparent label: this is where the information came from, this is who touched the story, this is the truthiness, this is the verification,” she said. “It could be automated. The faster we can approach radical transparency within news and make that available to the public, the better off we’ll be and the harder it’ll be to yell fake news.”
The kicker? There’s also a possibility all the data collected from that kind of verification could be monetized. “There’s something called differential privacy, a way of anonymizing data attached. … In the process of creating transparency and data, you can learn a lot from all that data. Somebody might be willing to pay for the privilege of learning from the data, maybe a marketer or activist or a school teacher. As long as that was also transparent – the opposite of Facebook – there’s an opportunity to develop profit centers, possibly even profit sharing, that everyone in the news ecosystem could exploit in a good and meaningful way,” Webb said.
For this week’s milestone podcast, producer Michael O’Connell brings back Amy Webb from The Future Today Institute, to talk about her vision for tools that would help media outlets gain trust with “radical transparency” in the shape of a badge verifying the pedigree of an article.
Editor’s Note: Below is Amy Webb’s presentation at the 2017 Online News Association conference.