Archive for the ‘Transparency Initiative’ tag

Transparency in journalism – a new meme?

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There’s momentum gathering around the importance of transparency to the future of journalism.
I’m no expert on how ideas move from the margins to the mainstream. Or indeed how or when an idea becomes a ‘meme’ and starts to take on a life of its own. But I get a strong sense that transparency is gaining traction in journalism; that it is changing from a theoretical construct to a practical requirement.
Three academics, one from New Cross, one from Dortmund, and one from Karlstad, each gave fascinating and compelling presentations about the growing importance of transparency in news at the Future of Journalism conference in Cardiff last week.
‘[E]stablishing new standards of transparency could help protect professional reporting in the new, networked era’ Angela Phillips, from Goldsmiths (New Cross), argued in ‘Transparency and the new ethics of journalism’. Klaus Meier (University of Dortmund) put it even more strongly, suggesting that ‘at the centre of the reasons for the demand for transparent journalism is the concern for the survival of journalism, because journalism is under threat from a crisis of credibility and a changed role in the digital age’. And Michael Karlsson from Karlstad, Sweden cited specific examples of news organizations that had experimented with aspects of transparency.
I’m biased of course, since we (the Media Standards Trust) have been leading a non-profit ‘Transparency Initiative’ in news for about 18 months, joint funded by the MacArthur Foundation and the Knight Foundation, which took a big step forward in July when we launched ‘Value Added News’ and the Associated Press announced they would be integrating hNews – the Value Added News data format – into their articles from November.
But there is a compelling intellectual case for transparency, as these academics emphasised:
It enables differentiation – in the digital world, where information is infinitely and infinitely replicable, being transparent about provenance and sourcing helps distinguish journalism from other content on the web
It puts a premium on original reporting – if you know when a piece was first published and by who, then it’s a lot easier to see who got their first – even if the story is replicated ad infinitum. ‘If every time an original story is produced it is properly credited and points traffic back to the source, then it will also, albeit at the margins, help to stimulate greater differentiation of content’ (Phillips)
It incentivizes journalists to behave differently – ‘‘If the news pool is to be retained (even in its current much reduced form) then news organisations need to have some incentive to interrogate and investigate at every level of society (not just when there is a big story to cover) and journalists need to feel some kind of investment in standards which set them apart from casual users of the internet’ (Phillips).
It demystifies journalistic practice and clarifies journalistic values (from Meier) – by making clear, as much as possible, where a journalist got their story from and how they put it together
It enables evaluation – ‘Transparency permits quality evaluations by the audience and thus can strengthen credibility (Neuberger, 2005, p. 327)’
It reinforces trust – most news organizations are still relying too much on their news ‘brand’ to ensure trust. Yet in a digital environment the brand is necessarily diluted – partly because there is so much more content on news sites (and much of it UGC), partly because people tend to come via search engines not, as in the print version, from the front page. Therefore, as Meier writes, ‘evidence of trustworthiness must be given repeatedly: Every newsroom, and basically also every single story must show why they deserve more trust than dozens or even hundreds of others on the same topic’ (Meier)
It encourages diversity (from Phillips) – by creating a premium around independent, original reporting
It helps enable networked journalism – ‘If the ‘public’ is to act as a corrective it needs to be aware of where the information originated’ (Phillips).
There are lots of different ways to make news more transparent. You can make clear the process by which news is gathered and published. You can show people editorial decision making in practice (e.g. filming editorial conferences). You can open up the whole method by which news is produced to involve the public. Karlsson called this last one ‘participatory transparency’, in which people are given an opportunity to participate in the news process (as additional sources, as critics, as monitors, as promoters); as opposed to ‘disclosure transparency’, in which a news organization / journalist discloses how they put a news piece together.
There are also obstacles to making news transparent. Meier cited three: that it may be considered ‘a waste of time, energy and other precious resources’, that ‘too much information about a complex body of source material could divert attention “from what is really important”’, and that it might even represent “a potential threat to autonomy” of a newsroom. He could have added a fourth, that news organisations are often extremely anxious not to give anything away that might help their competition.
These obstacles have prevented transparency having much impact so far. As this research showed, transparency is still a minority pursuit. This is also because there is little tradition of transparency, particularly in European newsrooms. Historically it has been considered a sign of vulnerability for news organizations not to give an impression that they know everything.
But transparency is the logical way to go, and listening to these academics this is starting to become accepted. According to Meier:
‘It is not just newsrooms in different parts of the world with different journalistic traditions that are talking increasingly about transparency and experimenting with it in their daily work (Deggans, 2006; Smolkin, 2006; Elia, 2008). Journalism scholars are also focusing more and more on this topic: It has been incorporated into textbooks on media ethics (Craft & Heim, 2009; Meier, 2009a), is the subject of conferences (Ziomek, 2005) or of theoretical approaches (Plaisance, 2007). Especially in articles dealing with the changes in journalistic roles and values brought about by the Internet’ (Meier)
Transparency is not the Holy Grail of news. Making clear where your article came from doesn’t matter much if the article is no good. Nor can transparency solve the economic crisis in funding original journalism. But it must be a pre-requisite to finding a sustainable solution.
The three presentations / articles have not yet been published. They are ‘Transparency and the new Ethics of Journalism, by Angela Phillips (Goldsmiths); ‘Transparency in Journalism: Credibility and trustworthiness in the digital future’ by Klaus Meier (University of Dortmund) and ‘Rituals of Transparency: Evaluating online ne
ws outlets use of transparency rituals in the US, UK and Sweden’ by Michael Karlsson (Karlstad University).
You can read more about the Media Standards Trust’s Transparency Initiative, and see how to make your news more transparent, at

Written by Martin Moore

September 14th, 2009 at 4:07 pm

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News [metadata] from Porto

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‘The solution to the overabundance of information’ David Weinberger writes in Everything is Miscellaneous, ‘is more information’. Long live metadata!

In Porto, I’ve spent the last couple of days at an official IPTC conference (the International Press Telecommunications Council). The folk at the IPTC have been thinking about information and metadata for over 40 years. These are the high priests of news metadata.

For a long while this was, as you’d figure, rather a minority pursuit (though mighty profitable for those that went to the trouble to do it).

Now, in our age of ‘infobesity’, it suddenly has significant new relevance and urgency.

Why? Because describing your content in a consistent, machine-readable way (through metadata) makes searching for it an awful lot easier. It also means you can label it so people know where it’s come from. It also frees up the information so it can be used in creative, unanticipated ways (like journalisted, or dipity). 

Problem is, almost all the rich IPTC metadata is stripped out before it gets to the end user. Once it has served its purpose – i.e. as a means of fast data transfer between different content businesses – the metadata is lost. By the time you and I see an article on a website we’ll be lucky if it even has a date stamp (e.g. see United Airlines story from last August).

Should you care? Well, if you want to know when and where a story was first published, yes. If you want to be able to search for stories by a specific journalist, or news organisation, then yes. If you’re interested in knowing where the news you’re reading has come from, then yes.

Which is why the Transparency Initiative – the MacArthur and Knight funded news project – and IPTC metadata standards, are so complementary. While the IPTC worry about labelling data at source, we’re concerned with how to make sure those labels (or at least those ones that are relevant to the public) don’t get lost along the way. Which is why we’re hoping to work with the IPTC to see how we can retain just a little of this rich metadata and carry it all the way to you and I, the end user.

This will be in addition to the main aim of the initiative which is looking to create simple conventions for highlighting the basic provenance of a news article in a clear and consistent way – i.e. who wrote it, who first published it, when it was first written, when it was updates, where it was written from (for more see

By learning from the IPTC’s 40 odd years of experience and working with them make sure news’ basic provenance doesn’t disappear, we hope we can help people find news and assess it more easily – before we all get swamped by the information tsunami.

Written by Martin Moore

March 4th, 2009 at 5:50 pm

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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

We've won a Knight Foundation News Award

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I can now explain why I’m in Las Vegas (and it’s not so I can enjoy the biggest seafood buffet in the US at this, the Rio, hotel – in a city that’s an hours flight away from the sea). Up till now we’ve been told we can’t talk about why we’re here.

We (we being the Media Standards Trust and the Web Science Research initiative) have won an award from the Knight Foundation to fund our joint transparency initiative. The Foundation has given us a grant of $350,000 (about £175,00) to develop ways to enable journalists – and people producing journalism – to add information to their articles online so the public can search for them more intelligently and, when they find them, assess them more fairly and consistently.

The project hopes to start to address the growing issue of how, given the astonishing accumulation of information on the web, people can distinguish journalism from commercial content, from government information, from personal posts etc. It will do this by developing the tools that allow journalists, news organisations, and those producing journalism (i.e. bloggers too!) to highlight basic factual information about their articles (or, to use that wonderful word ‘metadata’).

Information like, for example: that it is intended to be journalism, who it is written by, who it is written on behalf of, when it was first published, when it was last updated…. Once this has been highlighted it then becomes much much easier to enable people to search for it.

This is NOT about telling people what’s a good article or a bad article. It is NOT going to enable people to tell truth from falsehood. It is not about protecting ‘mainstream media’. Nor will it predict the winner of the 2010 election.

What it will do, we hope, is start a process in which journalists and news organisations become more transparent about their work and more consistent in describing it – to the mutual benefit of the journalists themselves and the public.

It’s non-profit, it will all be open source, and it’ll be evolutionary. We want to encourage as much flexibility and decentralised development as possible. We don’t yet know what information would be most useful to capture or indeed the best way to capture it (though we’ve got some ideas). So we’ll be documenting what we do and putting it online for people to comment on, use, adapt, develop etc.

If you have any questions about it you’re welcome to email me at and I’ll get back to you once I escape this bizarre town in the middle of the Nevada desert.

Written by Martin Moore

May 15th, 2008 at 4:58 pm

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