Archive for the ‘digital labelling’ tag

Making news transparent is not about kitemarking

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Flattering as it is to be referred to in the Reuters Institute’s new publication, ‘What’s happening to our news?‘, I better clear up a confusion before it gets fixed in people’s minds.

The Transparency Initiative, which we (the Media Standards Trust) and Tim Berners-Lee’s Web Science Research Initiative, are leading, is most definitely NOT about digital kitemarking. It is about digital labelling – or ‘meta-marking’. Though initially this might not sound so very different, believe me, the two are chalk and cheese. I know because I’ve spent far too much time – and too many sleepless nights – thinking about it this past year.

Digital kitemarking will not – IMHO – work. Why? Here’s just a few reasons:

(a) It’s top down – like most 20th century media models it assumes some sort of central control. If we’ve learnt anything from the digital revolution it must be the – welcome – dissolution of this control;
(b) It’s not specific enough – no individual kite mark would be able to both provide a guaranteed mark of quality, and at the same time be flexible enough to work for different types of journalism and different types of journalists;
(c) Gatekeeping would be overwhelming – vetting each new individual or organisation that wanted to apply the kitemark would be extremely time consuming and onerous (and on what basis would you do it?);
(d) Untenable risk management – a few high profile failures could undermine the whole system (errr… BBC, Jonathan Ross, Gaza);
(e) Lack of industry acceptance – why would I (insert BBC, Reuters, The Sun etc. here) let someone else ‘kitemark’ my work? The brand should be the kitemark of quality;

(f) Impractical to police – it would be very hard (an understatement) to stop people applying a label, even if not ‘permitted’ to (requires combination of honour system and legal sanction).

On the other hand, digital labelling, or meta-marking, could work very well because it is:

(a) Descriptive – it describes the origins of the content, not whether it’s any good (ie. who wrote it, who it was written on behalf of, when it was first published etc.);
(b) Democratic - it distributes participation, enabling anyone who is producing content online (e.g. a journalist) to describe what it is rather than rely on a third party to do it for them. In this sense it is  ‘bottom-up’ rather than top down;
(c) Empowering - once labelled, there is information within the content itself that provides the reader with what they need to assess it (rather than some sort of ‘stamp of approval’ from someone they’ve probably never heard of);
(d)  Discourages gaming - by making the information descriptive rather than judgmental, you dilute the incentive to game the system;
(e) Removes
monitoring difficulties
–  by making the information highly visible (to machines as well as to people), mistakes and fraud are very easy to spot;
(f)  Adaptable and flexible – the criteria can be applied to many different forms of information and allow each to be distinguished from one another (as well as from other content);
(g) Extendible – the scheme is easily scaleable – it is possible for millions of people to use it successfully without the system breaking or becoming overly bureaucratic. It could be extended to work with other suppliers of information and content, e.g. should the government want to label its content, it should be able to work in a similar and compatible way.

Digital labelling is not about telling people what’s good and what’s bad, it’s about telling people what is. Kind of like the ingredients on the side of a food packet. It’s like giving information on the web a postcode so people can find it more easily and, when they’ve found, know a little more about where it came from. This is very very different from kitemarking, with its implications of top-down editorial judgment.

To see how digital labelling can work, and how it could help journalists their content, see the (very beta) development site at

Written by Martin Moore

January 26th, 2009 at 11:10 am