Craig Silverman

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Craig Silverman (craig@craigsilverman.ca) is an award-winning journalist and the founder of Regret the Error, a blog that reports on media errors and corrections, and trends regarding accuracy and verification. The blog moved to The Poynter Institute in December 2011, and he joined as Adjunct Faculty. He also serves as Director for Content for Spundge, a content curation and creation platform used by newsrooms and other organizations. Craig has been a columnist for the Toronto Star, Columbia Journalism Review, The Globe And Mail and BusinessJournalism.org. He’s the former managing editor of PBS MediaShift, and was part of the team that launched OpenFile.ca, a Canadian online news start-up. His journalism and books have been recognized by the Mirror Awards, National Press Club, Canadian National Magazine Awards, and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.


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Ottawa Citizen apologizes to David Bowie for ‘Space Oddity’ accusation

In May, the Ottawa Citizen published an op-ed from a university professor that began with an accusatory opening line:  “David Bowie stole a piece of Canadian culture on Wednesday.”

It was dead wrong.

The piece claimed Bowie was personally responsible for having astronaut Chris Hadfield’s version of “Space Oddity” removed from YouTube. Professor Blayne Haggart wrote that “the world was only allowed to see the video because Bowie had granted Hadfield a one-year license to show it. On May 14, the license expired and Hadfield removed it from public view.”

Today, the paper apologized for the error. Turns out Bowie does not own the copyright for that song, and he in fact made efforts to try and get the owner to give the necessary permissions.

The apology reads in part:

One year later, the Citizen erroneously published that Mr. Bowie had granted the original licence but failed to renew the licence after one year. The commentary published by the Citizen also erroneously implied that Mr. Bowie was the reason the video had to be removed from YouTube and questioned how his actions could have “made the world a better place.” The article caused an immediate reaction by thousands of fans worldwide, and this incorrect information was picked up by hundreds of other news sources around the world.

On behalf of Blayne Haggart and ourselves, we regret the error and we sincerely apologize to Mr. Bowie as well as all his fans around the world.

Also of note is the URL of the apology: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/edited-dont-alter-apology-to-david-bowie. It clearly needed to run exactly as drafted, perhaps for legal reasons.

So far, the apology has been written up by USA Today. Read more

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LinkedIn acquires major fact checking patents

Lucas Myslinski was tired of having to fact check the questionable emails his father often forwarded to him.

“My dad would send these emails where they say something like, ‘Oh the government is stockpiling billions of dollars of ammunition’ and other things like that, where if all you would do is take a little time and look on Snopes you would find it’s not true,” Myslinski said.

That very problem has inspired projects such as LazyTruth, Truth Goggles, and Trooclick, all of which I wrote about last week, as well as the Washington Post’s TruthTeller. There’s a broad consensus that in a world of abundant, and often incorrect, information it would be valuable to have an app that “automatically monitors, processes, fact checks information and indicates a status of the information.”

Myslinski sketched out his ideas and then took the step of patenting them. The above quote is in fact taken from one of his many patent filings and summarizes the core of the systems he has imaged and diagrammed over the last few years.

“I filed the initial ones and then as I had new ideas I attached them to it and kind of kept growing it,” he told me by phone this week.

As a result, since 2012 Myslinski has been awarded eight U.S patents related to fact-checking systems. It’s arguably the largest portfolio of fact-checking patents in the U.S., and perhaps the world.

Filing for patents is Myslinski’s day job. He began his career as a software engineer and is today a patent attorney with the Silicon Valley firm Haverstock and Owens, L.L.P.

A patent attorney in Silicon Valley holding eight fact-checking patents is interesting enough on its own. But it’s what Myslinksi did in March of this year that makes these patents even more notable.

That month, he transferred ownership of all of his fact-checking patents to a major Silicon Valley company, though perhaps not the first one you’d think of: LinkedIn.

Yes, the juggernaut of professional networking and recruiting is now the owner of perhaps the most significant portfolio of fact-checking patents.

I asked Myslinski what LinkedIn plans to do with his former patents.

“You know, I don’t know,” he told me. “I haven’t had any real discussions about what their plans are for it.” (Some entirely speculative thoughts from me are below.)

I contacted LinkedIn for comment and not surprisingly they didn’t offer any specifics, either.

“We are a fast growing Internet company and it’s not uncommon for us to expand our patent portfolio,” said spokesman Doug Madey in an emailed response. He also declined to name the cost of the acquisition.

I asked if LinkedIn planned to use these patents for product development and Madey said, “Our patent acquisitions do not necessarily foreshadow new product innovations.”

Mark Lemley, director of the Stanford Program in Law, Science, and Technology and a partner at Durie Tangri LLP, listed three main reasons why a company like LinkedIn would buy patents:

(1) to try to shore up legal rights in a product space they consider important, (2) to resolve a claim that they are infringing those patents, and (3) because they think the patents will be useful to target a competitor or someone who is in turn threatening to sue them.

Michael Carrier, an intellectual property expert and distinguished professor at Rutgers School of Law, said LinkedIn’s acquisition likely has more to do with its competitors, rather than a specific interest in fact-checking.

“Companies acquire any patents that they think they can use against competitors,” he said. “LinkedIn must believe that it will be able to use these patents against rivals.”

For his part, Myslinski said he sought out a patent broker to sell his portfolio because he realized he wasn’t going to be able to turn the patents into a real product.

“First I focused on the patents and then I did have a developer develop a prototype, a very basic one,” he told me. “But then you know with just life and everything going on I figured it would probably be best to see what I could get out of it in terms of monetizing.”

The Patents

LinkedIn now owns these fact-checking patents (ordered by most recently granted):

  1. Method of and system for fact checking with a camera device
  2. Method of and system for fact checking email
  3. Social media fact checking method and system
  4. Web page fact checking system and method
  5. Method of and system for fact checking rebroadcast information
  6. Fact checking method and system
  7. Fact checking methods
  8. Fact checking method and system

There are also some open applications, including this one, which was just made public last week. It’s for a “Fact checking Graphical User Interface Including Fact Checking Icons,” and builds on the existing patents by introducing claims related to a user interface to display the result of fact checking claims.

Here, for example, is one drawing from that filing, a pair of “fact checking glasses”:

More important than the newly published application is the core patent in the portfolio, “Fact checking method and system,” which was granted in May of 2012.

That patent’s claims, in my view, represent the kind of systems being used, at least in part, by the aforementioned existing efforts in the world of automated/real-time fact checking.

Myslinski said he is aware of Truth Teller. I asked if he felt the project infringes on the patents. He hesitated before answering. “That would be up to [LinkedIn] to decide.”

I also asked LinkedIn. “We do not comment on intellectual property implications outside of the case of an active lawsuit,” was their answer.

That 2012 patent outlines Myslinksi vision of a checking system. Here’s what he wrote about the benefits of the system:

The fact checking system will provide users with vastly increased knowledge, limit the dissemination of misleading or incorrect information, provide increased revenue streams for content providers, increase advertising opportunities, and support many other advantages.

The patent’s specification includes a myriad of potential applications, from checking basic facts to alerting TV viewers to political bias on the part of a commentator, and imagining ways that viewers could flag items that need to be fact checked. The basics of the system are outlined in this diagram:

Again, that’s very basic. And, again, it arguably applies to how TruthTeller and others do their work… but that’s my non-legal opinion. (I’ll also state that my hope is these patents would never be used to stop efforts to develop fact-checking applications and systems.)

If Carrier, the patent expert, is correct and LinkedIn wants these patents mainly to use against competitors, then it’s important to consider who falls into their competitive set. Social networks, as well as jobs websites, are certainly competitors. (And when I saw those glasses I of course thought of Google Glass.)

But so too are publishers and other online information providers.

LinkedIn the publisher

LinkedIn has in a very short time become a major online publisher. The first big step in this direction came in the form of the purchase of Pulse, a news reader app that has since been revamped to power LinkedIn Today, a section of the site where the Pulse algorithm helps surface relevant content in a variety of industry and topic areas.

LinkedIn also has a small editorial team led by Dan Roth, formerly of Fortune. (Disclosure, when I was working at Spundge, a start-up, I met with Roth and a member of his team, and demoed our product.)

One of the biggest editorial efforts at LinkedIn is its Influencers program that has influential executives, entrepreneurs and others contribute content to the site. A more recent evolution is the expansion of LinkedIn’s CMS to enable anyone to write and publish content on LinkedIn.

That context makes the acquisition seem more in tune with LinkedIn’s editorial efforts. If they wanted to actually use these patents for innovation, an obvious step would be for LinkedIn to integrate fact-checking into its Pulse content algorithm. Then it could conceivably begin to offer professionals a feed of the most important and accurate information in their given industry.

That would save people time, and saving busy professionals time is a powerful value proposition. Of course, it would also bring people back to the site in a way that’s more effective and less annoying than all the “It’s Jane Doe’s birthday” LinkedIn emails.

And if LinkedIn can build an algorithm and system that reliably surfaces the most accurate content about a given topic, then that’s also a powerful tool to help scale its LinkedIn Today curation efforts – without requiring additional human editors. (Sorry folks!)

But the above is of course speculation on my part. Maybe even wishful thinking, given my affection for fact-checking. It’s entirely possible, and probably more likely, that LinkedIn simply wants to keep these patents in the chamber should they ever need to fire upon competitors.

If that’s the case, I hope the promising efforts in this emerging space don’t end up being collateral damage. Read more

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BuzzFeed faceplants in hockey story, then makes an amusing correction

When the Los Angels Kings won the Stanley Cup at home, lots of significant others, officials, and other folks came down to the ice to celebrate. As reported by BuzzFeed and Uproxx, this resulted in a remarkable faceplant by one woman who unwisely wore high heels on the ice:

That slip up caused another: BuzzFeed’s post mistakenly said the Kings are based on Sacramento, rather than L.A. (Sacramento’s basketball team is called the Kings.) That resulted in this amusing correction:

This post originally identified the Kings as being from Sacramento, not Los Angeles. The author clearly cares much more about faceplants than sports. We regret the error.

It’s funny and it conforms to the recently implement BuzzFeed correction policy, which I previously wrote about. Among other things, the style guide advised that an error in a lighthearted post can match the tone:

The correction’s tone should echo the tone of the item, in keeping with its gravity. For a factual error in, say, a funny list, the language can be fairly colloquial and even humorous as long as it contains the basic building blocks — “we got something wrong, and here is the correct information”; whereas for a news error, the language should be more sober and direct. A dumb mistake on a list of weird facts about Love Actually can begin: “GAH.” An error of fact in a news story should usually be labeled “CORRECTION.”

  Read more

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A new truth layer for the web

Over the years this idea has attracted entrepreneurs and technologists, and so far no one has been able to figure out a workable, widely-adopted product.

The problem to solve is obvious: With so much content being published online, it’s difficult for most people to determine the quality and credibility of a given webpage or other piece of content. How can you know if the article you’re reading has incorrect facts, is incomplete, or was produced by an organization with serious ethical issues? Isn’t there some way to compare all the articles and content on a given topic and surface the best, most accurate and complete version?

A team of 16 people in Paris are the latest to try and solve this problem. Their product is Trooclick, and it will launch an initial version this month. (Today, at the Global Editors Network Summit in BarcelonaI’m moderating a panel about fact-checking that includes Trooclick CEO Stanislas Motte.)

Trooclick is a browser plugin (Chrome and Firefox) that alerts you if an article you’re reading includes what they call “glitches.” A glitch could be an incorrect fact, information that conflicts with other media reports about the same topic, or something about the publisher’s ethics, or the ethics of the article itself, that a reader should be aware of.

“These are warning signs that something in the article doesn’t quite match with a public database, or with other articles that have been written about that same subject,” said Robyn Bligh, a translator with the company who also leads its communications efforts, in a phone interview. “We’re not saying that it’s completely false; it’s a warning sign.”

During a demo they showed a Venture Beat article about a company’s IPO. Here’s a look at the Trooclick window that popped up to tell me about the glitches:

Trooclick flagged it due to the fact that a Wall Street Journal article included a different amount of money that a company was planning to raise in its IPO. Note: the “Is this article reliable” feature is a user-generated voting aspect that wasn’t active when I used People will be able to vote an article up or down.

The app noted that the company’s IPO filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission contained a different amount for the IPO raise, as a well as a different filing date:

Their strategy is to start by focusing on identifying glitches about financial/business news.

“The main target is professional in the financial and economic fields because they’re the ones who can benefit the most,” Bligh said.

The thinking is that if Trooclick can help a business or financial professional ensure they always see correct information in news articles, then the company sees that as a path to gaining a foothold among users. They also see potential in the future to have others use their technology to surface the best content, and pay a licensing fee to do so.

“The ambition is to check all the field of the news,” said Pierre-Alber Ruquier, a former journalist who is the company’s CMO, in the interview. “So for the moment we do it step by step. It’s more a question of priority of which [subject] to start with.”

Business and financial news is important for many professionals, so that’s where they will start.

How it works

The way Trooclick works is relatively simple to explain but harder to execute: it analyzes the text of the webpage you’re on and compares it to their database of facts and figures to see if anything is related between the two. If there is a match, they see if the data they’ve collected is different from what you’re reading. If that’s the case, it alerts you to the glitches.

As for the ethical glitches, they will have a set of things to look for, such as the use of anonymous sources. For example, a blog post by Trooclick notes that a recent article in TechCrunch would have likely included some “media ethics conflicts” notifications given the number of anonymous sources:

Reading Techcrunch’s article, Trooclick was surprised to see the number of times they mention anonymous sources. The article is full of “we’re hearing from multiple sources”, “we hear that”, “people said”, will apparently”, “a source tells us” and so on. These expressions of uncertainty are among the criteria which Trooclick will be able to analyze in the future when rating there liability of a news article.

By the end of this month, they expect their system to capture and build a database of roughly 30 different economic properties that will be used to compare against an article you’re reading.

This data will be drawn from SEC filings, official company press releases, and other data sources they deem reliable. They also extract key data from news articles published by a growing list of close to 100 publishers whose content they scan on a constant basis. (Trooclick doesn’t store the articles themselves; it extracts the key data from the article, such as share price, and stores that in a database.)

The challenge of a truth layer

As noted above, there have been several attempts to figure out the right truth/quality layer for the web.

Two projects that didn’t fulfill their initial promise were NewsTrust, which was meant as a way for people to collaboratively rate the quality of news articles, and to come up with the best coverage on specific topics. It ended in 2012 and the product and company domain were transferred to Poynter.

Another attempt in the same vein was NewsCred. It initially launched as a project to surface the best news articles using a mix of technology and user feedback. The company made a major pivot away from that and is today a leader in the content marketing technology space.

In terms of ongoing projects, Truth Goggles will use the PolitiFact database of fact checks, among others, to compare against a given article you’re reading. Like Trooclick, its consumer implementation would be as a browser plugin, but it hasn’t yet launched. There’s also LazyTruth, an effort led by MIT graduate Matt Stempeck to help identify urban legends and scams in your email inbox. It’s currently a Chrome extension, or you can use it by forwarding a suspect email to ask@lazytruth.com to get an analysis.

Another effort is Skeptive,which relies on users to identify conflicting claims online. Skeptive then attempts to determine “which side of a dispute is most supported by the sources that any given User trusts. Put together, these two processes tell you whether there’s a source out there that you trust that disagrees with the sentence that you’re reading.” Their goal is to find a better way to resolve online disputes and differences of opinion.

Trooclick and its ilk typically have two big challenges:

  • Building out a big enough database of quality data to compare against what people see and read.
  • Getting enough people to install their plugin/use their app.

The two elements are obviously connected. You need the data to deliver a good user experience in order to drive adoption. But without adoption, it tends to be hard to raise money to keep building out the data and product.

Trooclick is attacking the scale/adoption issue by focusing on a one area where there is potentially real value to users, and where they can access or build databases of relevant facts. Based on the alpha, their technology works and is nicely implemented for the user.

One challenge for them, and anyone else who relies on a browser plugin, is the fact that more and more reading is done on mobile phones, which renders most browser plugins useless.

Hey, nobody said building a truth layer was easy. That’s why people keep trying. Read more

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San Francisco Chronicle blog fails video game trivia, issues correction

The San Francisco Chronicle’s pop culture critic had to issue a correction after he misstated the revenge intentions of video game aliens:

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post suggested that a singular being named Yar was getting his revenge in the Atari 2600 game Yars’ Revenge. In fact, the Yarians were a race of aliens, and were collectively seeking revenge. The Big Event apologizes for the error.  (Thanks to TBE reader Marty for the e-mail pointing this out.) Read more

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CNN serial plagiarist primarily lifted from her old employer, Reuters

Editors at CNN were performing a regular spot check of content in the organization’s publishing queue last week when they discovered that a story by London bureau news editor Marie-Louise Gumuchian included material taken without attribution from another source.

Using plagiarism detection software, they quickly turned up more examples and in the end have so far found that Gumuchian plagiarized in roughly 50 articles.

CNN leadership announced their findings and her firing in an Editor’s Note published today. Gumuchian was on the CNN world desk, and appears to have written frequently about the Middle East, among other topics.

“Most of what we found was [lifted] from Reuters, which she was previously employed by,” says a CNN source who asked not to be identified due to the fact that they were not cleared to speak publicly about the incident. “We also notified [Reuters]. She worked for us for about six months, so if we found that many in six months I can’t imagine the job Reuters has now.”

Reuters is reviewing Gamuchian’s work, a spokesman told Poynter. She worked for Reuters for roughly nine years, according to the CNN source.

“It’s kind of ballsy — don’t you think your old colleagues might look to see what you were doing at your new job?” the source said, adding that as a longtime journalist it’s unlikely Gumuchian thought it was okay for her to use Reuters wire content without attribution. Or that it would be acceptable.

The editor’s note about Gumuchian said CNN has gone in and “removed the instances of plagiarism found in her pieces. In some cases, we’ve chosen to delete an entire article.” That’s happened in seven instances, the source said.

Articles that were updated include a note informing readers of the reason for changes. Here’s an example:

Editors’ Note: This article has been edited to remove plagiarized content after CNN discovered multiple instances of plagiarism by Marie-Louise Gumuchian, a former CNN news editor.

CNN has also sent a note out to all CNN wire clients to inform them of the offending articles, so they could add any editors’ notes as needed.

As for the deleted stories, the source said this was done “because the plagiarism was so extensive … we killed the whole article because it was so blatant.” Here’s the text that appears at deleted story URLs:

(CNN) – This article has been removed after CNN discovered multiple instances of plagiarism in this story.

I asked if readers going to the URL of the removed article will see some kind of note explaining why the article has disappeared, and the source wasn’t sure if that was being done or not. (I’ll update with any news on that issue.)

The source said spot checks for attribution and plagiarism are a regular part of CNN’s editorial workflow. “She only worked for us for six months and we identified it.”

It’s encouraging that CNN caught her so soon into her tenure. However, by that time she had already caused a lot of damage. Perhaps the spot checks need to be increased, given the amount of content being produced. I also hope CNN moves the editor’s notes from the bottom of the offending articles up to the top.

If you’re wondering about best practices for handling an incident of plagiarism or fabrication, Kelly McBride and I previous offered a comprehensive guide. Read more

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Times public editor calls Joe Nocera column ‘intrinsically flawed,’ calls for more than a correction

New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has weighed in on a dispute between two heavyweights. In one corner is high-profile Times columnist Joe Nocera. In the other, billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

In the end, she sides with Buffett, writing that a Nocera column about Buffett is “so intrinsically flawed, a standard correction didn’t get the job done.” She’s right, for the reasons she cites and for another that I’ll note below.

Sullivan’s post focused on a pair of columns (1,2) by Nocera about Buffett and recent decisions related to executive compensation at Coca-Cola, a company in which Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is the largest shareholder.

Sullivan notes that both of Nocera’s columns required corrections for factual errors. But even more than the mistakes, the major concern for her is that “The entire premise of the second column is built on a mistake: that Mr. Buffett had changed his tone after ‘licking his wounds’ over the reaction to statements he made on April 23, including Mr. Nocera’s criticism.”

Nocera’s second column played up the apparent change of heart as his reason writing:

I am returning to this subject because, on Monday, following widespread criticism of his decision, Buffett gave a remarkable interview to Fortune magazine’s Stephen Gandel, an interview that was strikingly different in tone from his remarks of last week.

But that Fortune interview happened before Nocera’s initial column (and other criticism) was published. So Nocera’s stated reason to return to the subject was in fact wrong.

This is the exact situation people often raise with me when expressing their frustration with the way the press handles errors. When an article or opinion column is based on an incorrect fact or mistaken assumption, they expect there to be something more than just a simple correction. They expect the offending party to admit they were wrong, or to significantly alter their original assertions.

Sullivan agrees. Calling the column “intrinsically flawed,” she outlined her preferred remedy:

Mr. Nocera should have devoted at least part of another column to telling his readers what happened and why. In his email to me, Mr. Nocera referred to the second column’s fundamental mistake as “bad/dumb/embarrassing.”

Such a forthright admission should not be confined to an email answer to the public editor’s question, but should be published in the same Times pages where the two columns ran. Ideally, the online version of the second column would provide a clear link to the mea culpa.  That would go a long way toward making this right.

This raises another issue that remains unresolved: most people reading the offending column will likely read all of the incorrect assertions before getting to the correction.

The Times places its corrections at the bottom of an offending story, and it also puts  “Corrections Appended” at the top of the story, and hyperlinks that text to the correction. In most cases, this is great; you can go to the correction right away if you like, or just start with the story.

However, in a situation such as this, the issue is that the Times leaves the original, incorrect text intact even after adding the correction.

Any reader who gets the bottom of the Nocera column and sees the correction is going to feel like they just read all of this stuff about Buffet’s change of heart, only to discover that it’s not the case. It should be noted right away, or in the text itself.

To Sullivan’s point, when a column is so badly flawed there needs to be something more done for readers (and the aggrieved party). Either put the correction text at the top so that it’s clearly spelled out for everyone before they read, or require Nocera to fix the column, and offer an explanation, as Sullivan suggests.

As it stands, the correction’s placement and the lack of a corrected column exacerbate the mistake.

One final note: Sullivan’s post includes a necessary disclosure that she for years worked as the top editor at a paper owned by Buffett’s company:

(Disclosure: From 1999 to 2012, I was the editor of The Buffalo News, a paper owned by Berkshire and of which Mr. Buffett is the chairman. I own no shares of Berkshire.)

I had a lingering question after reading her post: how much interaction did she have with Buffett while in her role as the top editor of a paper he owned? It occurred to me because her post for the Times includes several quotes from an interview she had with Buffett. I wondered if they had spoken before.

“I’ve met him several times over the years,” she told me after I sent a question via a Twitter direct message. “We’ve had a cordial though not close relationship.”

It’s not an issue for her to have had past interactions with Buffett. But if I wondered about that, perhaps others did, too.

Update May 13: It looks like Sullivan’s post had the desired effect. Nocera has a new column up, and he uses it to offer a more meaningful mea culpa An excerpt:

“Although The Times published a strong correction, Margaret Sullivan, the public editor, wrote that she didn’t think it went far enough because my column was ‘so intrinsically flawed.’ Upon reflection, I agree with her. I sincerely regret the error.”

Good on Nocera, and nice work by the public editor. Read more

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New service will rate the authenticity of digital images

By the time an image makes its way online, it could have been opened and processed in any number of applications, passed through various hands, and been remixed and manipulated.

Today a new image hosting service, Izitru, is launching to give people new ways to certify the authenticity of a digital image. It’s also a tool that journalists can use to help verify images.

The Izitru website and iOS app can “distinguish an original JPEG file captured with a digital camera from subsequent derivations of that file that may have been changed in some way,” according to the company.

It mixes forensic image analysis with elements of crowdsourcing and human oversight. Izitru also has an API that will enable other services to integrate its technology.

Confirming provenance

The service is a new offering from Fourandsix Technologies, Inc., a company I previously wrote about. It’s founded by Kevin Connor, a former vice president of product management for Photoshop, and Dr. Hany Farid, a leading image forensics expert. Their initial product, FourMatch, was a verification extension for Adobe Photoshop.

Anyone can use Izitru as a place to host their images and to have their photos subjected to a series of six forensic tests that result in a publicly visible “trust rating.” The Izitru iOS app can also take photos and have them uploaded directly to the site. Watch it in action:

izitru: Real photos. Without a doubt. from Fourandsix on Vimeo.

One important note about the six tests the site performs: they are geared toward “proving that a file is the original from a camera, rather than trying to prove it has been manipulated,” Connor said. It’s not about determining whether something has been Photoshopped.

These automated tests help with one important element of photo verification: provenance. You want to know who took the image and whether that image came directly from a digital camera. By shooting with the Izitru app, it ensures the photo is an original from the phone’s camera. The Izitru website can also be used by journalists to upload and test a photo.

“From a journalism standpoint, one of the challenges … is that once files get distributed on social media sites, they automatically get re-compressed and modified to the point that we can’t verify them any more,” Connor told me in an email.

Images are also often scraped and altered, making it incredibly difficult to determine the original creator.

Others have recognized this problem. Scoopshot, a crowdsourced photography service, last year launched a photography app with an authenticity rating system. Vice journalist Tim Pool recently launched Taggly, an app that watermarks and attributes images before they get shared online.

A sample image uploaded to Izitru.

A ‘trust rating’ for images

Connor said that with Izitru they want to “encourage people to verify their important photos before they’re distributed. This uses an evolution of the same technology that is in our first product, FourMatch, but with the addition of five additional forensic tests.”

In addition to those tests, which result in a trust rating being added, anyone viewing the image can push a “challenge” button to indicate their view that the image may not be authentic. Enough challenges will result in Connor’s team doing additional analysis. If they determine the image has been manipulated, they will apply a No Trust rating. (The No Trust rating can only be applied after human analysis.)

Their ratings from high to low are: High Trust, Medium Trust, Undetermined File History, Potential File Modification and No Trust.

“Though we can’t commit to looking at every challenged file, we’ll certainly look at any file that gets a significant number of challenges,” Connor said.

He continued:

At that point, we can apply some of our other tests–such as clone detection, lighting analysis, etc. If we see a reason to adjust our rating, then we’ll do so and add a note to this effect on the page. If we see clear evidence the image content has been manipulated, then we’ll apply a No Trust rating. The Challenge button is a community feedback mechanism for us that will allow us to continue to refine our automated testing approach as well.

It’s only by challenging an image and getting the Izitru team to perform additional tests and analysis that possible manipulation can be detected.

“Unfortunately, the tests that detect specific signs of manipulation can be more open to interpretation, so they don’t currently lend themselves to automated usage by people who aren’t trained analysts,” Connor told me.

The Izitru iPhone app.

Competitive area

Connor acknowledged that the world of photo apps and upload sites is very competitive. People will need to first know Izitru exists, and then feel inclined to use it in the moment when they’re snapping that important or newsworthy image.

That’s why his team also built an Izitru API to enable other applications to connect to the service and take advantage of its analysis capabilities.

“With [the API], sites that are already getting volumes of images uploaded for sharing could integrate our tests and badge the most trustworthy images as they come in,” he said.

Since the product has only just launched, there yet aren’t any API integrations to share.

He did however say that “a stealth citizen journalism startup” has expressed interest in an integration.

It will be interesting to watch whether they can forge partnerships that begin to spread their trust rating, or if partners don’t see this as enough of a value add. Social networks and apps, for example, prefer to verify users rather than play any part in rating or verifying content.

Those aren’t the only possible partners, of course — but they are where images are shared and engaged with on a huge scale. Will any of them see an advantage in building in an additional trust layer? Read more

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Times public editor Margaret Sullivan says journalists need to be like sharks

New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan says journalists today are like sharks. “If you’re not moving forward, it’s over.”

Sullivan gave a keynote address at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, titled, “What I’ve learned at The New York Times — and what that says about journalism.”

In her prepared remarks, she discussed what she sees as the emerging consensus about where journalism is heading, and Sullivan also shared four journalistic values that in her view will never go out of style. She also emphasized the rapidly changing nature of journalism, and why that means journalists, like sharks, always need to keep moving in order to survive.

Her moment of realization of that fact came roughly four years ago after she read Clay Shirky’s post “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.”

“I had romantic notions at that time about the sounds of printing presses and the smell of printer’s ink,” she said.

Sullivan was the top editor of The Buffalo News, and she decided to stop “being part of the old guard, holding on tight with my eyes closed as tightly as they would go.”

She joined Twitter and began blogging for the paper. This embrace of social media and the digital world was a factor in her being hired by the Times, she said.

Challenging and stressful

Sullivan has been in the job now for a little more than a year and a half. She called the work “endlessly challenging and often stressful,” and said her sense is the newsroom appreciates the importance and purpose of the public editor position. But there are inevitably times when she writes things that people at the Times disagree with. In fact, disagreement is a constant in the job.

“While in life and especially in journalism it’s very hard to please everyone all the time, as the public editor of the New York Times it is impossible to please anyone, ever,” she said, perhaps only half-joking.

One specific topic she mentioned was the March 2013 decision by the Times to close its Green blog, and the decision in January of that year to redeploy environmental reporters and editors. Sullivan talked about how she followed up on the story in November and reported that the “quantity of climate change coverage decreased,” as had “the amount of deep, enterprising coverage of climate change.”

Sullivan said every news organization needs to invest in climate change coverage, and that the Times has made some hiring moves in that direction.

“I would urge every news organization to have a reporter or a team of reporters covering” climate change,” she said. “I can’t think of too many other subjects that will affect our world more than the environment.”

Sullivan was also asked about the fact that she often hears from readers on Twitter about their concerns, and how that has affected the way she does her job.

“One effect that it’s had on me is I fell like I’m on duty all the time,” she said. “It’s really hard to walk away or be off the grid, and that can be very exhausting. There have definitely been times where I found out from Twitter what I will be writing about the next day.”

However, she cautioned that she sees “a tendency to overreact” on Twitter.

As a general takeaway, Sullivan said she admires the Times and believes that it’s “excellent in so many ways — but being excellent doesn’t translate into being perfect.”

Areas of consensus

Here are the five items Sullivan said have emerged as areas of consensus at this moment in journalism:

  1. “Serious readers, at least sometimes, will pay for serious news.” Sullivan said the Times and the success of its metered paywall is evidence of this.
  2. “Digital news is not just another platform.” She cited Vox, BuzzFeed, Vice, The Verge, PandoDaily and Business Insider as “nimble new ventures” that “are as different from newspaper as streaming ‘House of Cards’ on your iPad” is from traditional ways of consuming TV/films.
  3. “Data driven journalism continues to be a huge trend and continues to embraced, and we’ve not figured out exactly what it’s going to be.” She also cited the importance of single topic news sites, such as Chalkbeat and InsideClimate News.
  4. “We are seeing big money philanthropists investing in news.” Sullivan called it a “Great use of some enormous personal wealth, and wonderful to see it gaining strength.”
  5. “Twitter is so closely interwoven with news that it’s hard to believe it’s only seven or eight years old.” She noted that “every hiring editor is on Twitter,” and wondered whether another platform would emerge to challenge Twitter’s role as the place where we see the first draft of history, in real-time.

Values that remain

Sullivan shared a list of values she says will never go out of style, regardless of how much journalism is changing.

  • Integrity. “Simply put, as a journalist you are not for sale.” She also emphasized the importance of attribution and crediting sources. “Always give credit where it’s due. If you want your name on it, do your work.”
  • Challenging authority. “We’re supposed to be a check on power. Sometimes that means being adversarial.”
  • Accuracy. “Fast is good, but right is better,” she said. “We need the strongest possible commitment to accuracy and its close cousin, fairness.” After news organizations, including the Times, wrongly identified the perpetrator of the Newtown, Connecticut, mass shooting, Sullivan said a reader wrote her to say “she had always believed that if ‘I read it in The New York Times it’s always true,’ but her belief in that truth had been shaken.”
  • Transparency. “We can say what we know and what we don’t know at a particular time, and we can be quick to admit it when we know something is wrong and when we get something wrong,” she said. Sullivan also said that journalists are eager to shine a light on the actions of public figures and institutions, but we are “not always so eager to shine that light on ourselves.”

Correction: The headline for this piece originally said “Time” instead of “Times.” Read more

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Trust

How ‘communicating imperfection’ can increase readers’ trust in journalists

After studying corrections from three newspapers in different parts of the world, Zohar Kampf and Efrat Daskal concluded that journalists don’t “understand the great ethical potential in corrections.”

That sometimes leads to corrections that are “incomprehensible, ambiguous texts, devoid of any significant content or meaning for the readers,” according to their paper, “Communicating Imperfection: The Ethical Principles of News Corrections,” which was published in the journal Communication Theory. Kampf is a professor and Daskal is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of communication and journalism at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In an email exchange, they identified the main barrier to effective correction for journalists and news organizations: a culture of shame around errors.

Newspapers shouldn’t be ashamed of errors or fear them, they said. “They are inevitable part of any human conduct, especially one that is restricted with deadlines. If editors and journalist will internalize this idea we will have a better profession, one that confronts criticism with respect.”

I like to say that a correction is an act of promotion that builds trust. The public does not expect us to be perfect. They are in fact suspicious of a news organization that never admits an error.

As the title of Kampf and Daskal’s paper suggests, we need to become more comfortable with — and better at — “communicating imperfection.”

Kampf and Daskal set out criteria for an ideal correction:

An ideal corrective text should overtly accept responsibility by using a performative marker, such as an apology, which points to the ethical positioning of a transgressor vis-à-vis the offence and the offended party and may also serve as a compensational gesture toward the offended; it should acknowledge and describe the offense, including the flawed procedure leading to its occurrence and its consequences; and it should identify the offender and the offended parties as such.

The above captures how much a correction is supposed to do in a small amount of space. A correction is often one sentence, tucked away. And yet we expect so much: It must repair damage; it must demonstrate a commitment to accountability; it must be clear about the error and the correct material.

It seems unfair to expect so much from something that is given such little prominence. And yet this is an argument for how fundamentally powerful the correction can and should be, if only we were willing to invest more effort.

That’s why Kampf and Daskal call upon news organizations to include more information in corrections.

“We think that our most bald suggestion is to disclose more information on the journalistic practices that have lead to errors,” they told me. “Such exposure of backstage information (with needed limitations, of course) may be of value to readers who will know more about journalists’ methods and routines and, as a result, will better understand the complexities and difficulties involved in serious journalistic work.”

Corrections study

For their study, they analyzed print corrections from three newspapers: Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth, USA Today, and the U.K.’s Daily Express. The sample of close to 1,500 corrections was drawn from an initial data set of thousands of corrections from between 1968 and 2008 for Yedioth Ahronoth, and from 1998 to 2008 for the other two publications.

Kampf and Daskal write that they selected these outlets because they fall into the category of the “‘Serious-Popular Press,’ lying at the center of the continuum between the serious press and tabloid newspapers.”

They examined the corrections to see whether they contained the four elements of what they called the “textual model of accountability”: (1) the corrective marker (2) the offender (3) the offense, and (4) the offended party.

A corrective marker is any “form of symbolic responsibility and/or any compensatory marker.” For example, the phrase “we regret the error” would qualify as a corrective marker.

The main example of a corrective marker in the collected corrections was a headline such as “Corrections.” While it may be a proper label, Kampf and Daskal view the lack of a marker within the correction text itself as a failure of accountability.

“The preference to include a corrective marker in the headline which does not count as an explicit admission of responsibility, and to avoid responsibility markers in the body of the correction, seems to indicate the tendency to create the appearance of an ethical response while blurring actual responsibility for the error,” they write.

Kampf and Daskal found that overall the papers were good at indicating when the original error had appeared, and that the print corrections tend to appear within one week of the original error. In terms of location, USA Today and the Daily Express both have a set location in print for corrections. Yedioth Ahronoth, however, places corrections in different parts of the paper.

“In most cases (82%) the error and the correction appear in the same section of the newspaper, but within these cases, the correction more often appears on a later page than does the erroneous publication,” they write.

When it came to specifying the party guilty of making the error, the researchers found the vast majority of corrections do not name a specific person or role. In my experience, most organizations take the approach that every error is a collective mistake and therefore don’t specify a guilty party. The New York Times stands out for specifically stating whether a mistake was due to an editing error. (Or a source error.)

Kampf and Daskal also found that corrections rarely state the cause of an error. Certainly, part of this is the space constraints of a printed correction. But even online, with unlimited space, you don’t see a reason given for a mistake.

The authors see this as a major missed opportunity for news organizations to provide readers with a better “understanding of the complexities of journalistic work.”

Overall, the data showed that most corrections —the lowest percentage was 79 percent at USA Today — make it reasonably clear what the original mistake was, and what the correct information is. However, they also found that between six and 21 percent of the corrections studied made “no sense.”

Thick corrections

Kampf and Daskal advocate news organizations offer what they call “thick corrections.”

Thick corrections provide a more complete picture of the offense and the organization’s sense of accountability for it. They have a greater potential to actually repair damage and forge a stronger connection with the audience, according to Kampf and Daskal. In contrast, “thin corrections” are when the minimum possible information is offered, sometimes resulting in confusion or frustration for the reader and any offended party.

“Thick corrections should contain information about the nature of offence, the processes leading to the error within the news organization and identify the offended party as such,” they told me. A good correction “should be contextualized in a way that allows readers to fully reconstruct the inaccurate initial publication. It is quite rare to find a correction that includes all four textual elements that corresponds with the all journalistic and accountability values.”

They also suggest that social media and other digital channels are ideal “for communicating imperfection.” These mediums offer “a constant and enduring arena for engaging the public in open discussion with journalists about press practices and performances, and, at the interpersonal level, it may serve as a means of symbolically compensating specific victims.”

In this respect, a correction becomes a piece of content that journalists can enhance and personalize in ways that add value to it, while bringing additional attention. This act helps add heft to a correction, but it also helps it meets its goals more than ever before.

But, first, more journalists need to embrace the fact that every correction, no matter how much it hurts your pride, is a chance to demonstrate your values and build rapport.

A correction is an opportunity. Read more

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