New website builds dossiers on journalists, hopes transparency will lead to trust

Ira Stoll is 38. He has a Facebook page and a Twitter account. His phone number is (718) 499-2199 and his email is ira@futureofcapitalism.com. He went to college at Harvard, has worked at the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and New York Sun, and he considers Seth Lipsky a personal friend.

I know all this from Stoll’s profile page on NewsTransparency.com, a new site he just launched to make it easier for the public “to find out about the individual human beings who produce the news — human beings with opinions, relationships, history, and agendas.”

The site consists of journalist profile pages which, like Wikipedia, allow anyone to add information and, like Amazon, enable ratings and reviews. They also collect articles written about the journalist’s work.

What’s the point? Stoll, who founded FutureofCapitalism.com, cites polls showing record-high public distrust of the media, and academic research finding roughly half of newspaper stories contain errors. He hopes NewsTransparency.com will improve the accuracy, quality, and transparency of journalism. It “should help readers, viewers, and listeners put what they are reading in better context, and it may even prompt some improvements by the journalists.”

Those quotes are from the website’s “about” page. Stoll explained his goals further in an email to Poynter:

What I hope it will do: For readers, give them a place to go for background about a journalist to help them understand where the journalist is coming from. For sources, give them a neutral territory to go to to complain about an inaccurate story or irresponsible journalist or to praise an accurate story or exemplary journalist. For journalists, a place to receive and respond to reader and source feedback and to share information to make themselves and their colleagues less mysterious, more transparent, and more accessible.

A journalist profile on NewsTransparency.com can include a photo, age, contact information, education, political affiliation, charities, work history, sources and friends.

The idea certainly has potential, as you can see from a fairly well-developed profile of Politico’s Mike Allen. As with any contribution-driven site, its success will depend on the volume and reliability of participation. Accuracy could be a concern if people purposely or mistakenly add false information. Journalists may want to keep an eye on their own profiles for that reason.

The site may also test a new principle of online journalism, that transparency is the new objectivity. The notion is that journalists ought to stop pretending to be thoughtless, emotionless repeaters of attributed information, and instead act as real people who explain where they are coming from.

This new site tries to impose transparency on individual journalists (can you still call it transparency if it’s imposed from the outside?), and hopes that public trust in them will follow.

Surely, some vocal partisans will wield this information to allege liberal or conservative bias among individual journalists. But if journalists look past that, perhaps they can connect with a larger though quieter group of regular people who just want to get the news, and know a little more about where it’s coming from.

Related: Atlantic writer says stop forcing journalists to conceal their views || Earlier: Is it really a big deal if journalists share personal opinions? || How accessible do journalists really want to be?

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JSUNTE67TUHS36QAOVMR4LC5HA Pink

    This is the dumbest idea I’ve seen in some time.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JSUNTE67TUHS36QAOVMR4LC5HA Pink

    Lawyers know the language? Really? Maybe language from the 18th Century, but saying lawyers understand how to use the English language is one of the funniest statements I have seen in some time.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JSUNTE67TUHS36QAOVMR4LC5HA Pink

    This is going to be a perfect opportunity for people to unfairly criticize journalists, who are just as despised as politicians. Just like with any “rating” system, there will be more people who abuse it and make unfair, biased complaints against a writer for doing his or her job. I don’t see how anyone could take this seriously or even think this is smart.

  • http://johntedesco.net John Tedesco

    “Journalists should stop acting like they are there to change the world
    and manipulate the public, and simply report facts and news.”

    Sharon, have you considered that simply reporting the facts can change the world?

    Just because some journalists say they want to make a difference does not mean they are out to brainwash the masses or “manipulate the public.” What they mean is that digging up facts and telling people what’s really going on in the world can help folks make better decisions in their lives.

    Now, we can certainly debate whether journalists are reaching that goal or falling short. But for journalists, it’s simply not true that “making a difference” means “pushing an agenda.”

  • http://twitter.com/Esgaroth Sharon Ferguson

    Journalists should stop acting like they are there to change the world and manipulate the public, and simply report facts and news. In my opinion, journalists have fallen lower than the slimiest lawyers because of their inability to use the English language correctly and their activism.  At least lawyers KNOW the law and language. Journalists act like they are saviors when they are only gossip mongers nowadays and never hold back in inserting their bias/opinions. And if some of the more prominent journalists are going to sit there with a gleam in their eye about someone’s mishaps for the sake of ratings, then I as a reader/observer ought to be able to relish getting the goods on the people who use the media to take hits. 

  • http://twitter.com/JohnHamer John Hamer

    Good idea, similar to Journalisted (http://journalisted.com/about) in England, started in 2007 by Media Standards Trust. Also similar to the “TAO of Journalism – Transparent, Accountable and Open” (http://taoofjournalism.org) project started by the Washington News Council in 2009 as a voluntary pledge and seal that journalists can take and display. It’s a simple promise to readers, viewers and listeners that they will be Transparent about who they are and where they’re coming from, Accountable if they make mistakes, and Open to other points of view. What’s wrong with that? Won’t this also help build credibility and trust? Isn’t this what journalists ask of everyone else? For more background on the WNC, visit http://wanewscouncil.org. We’ve been trying to increase public trust in the news media since 1998. Efforts like these can help! If only journalists were smart enough to realize that….

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  • Anonymous

    I’d expect a better reporting job from Poynter. Did you look at any of the profiles beyond Ira Stoll? The few that have anything at all mostly link to camera.org “articles” critical of coverage with an alleged anti-Israel bias. The tumbleweeds will be rolling through this site within six months because it has zero credibility out of the gate (despite Poynter’s thumbs up). It’s not the journalists profiled that have an axe to grind, it’s the site itself.

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  • Anonymous

    I was saying this can work for individual journalist work, but not for broadcasters whose work is not theirs alone but one of collaboration where researchers and scriptwriters come in. The broadcaster (not a journalist in the real sense) merely reads or acts out what was prepared for him. I wish there could also be a way wherein we can make broadcasters responsible. Yes,collecting their dossiers may also help – especially in the Philippines where media is caught wayward time and again.

  • Anonymous

    This is as far as individual journalist work goes. I wish something could also be done to broadcasters whose work is not theirs alone but a collaboration of many. TV stations or networks, for example, can produce programs that tend to be oppressive to others. The work, however, is not the result of the broadcaster’s doing but that of many others like researchers and scriptwriters. Bias can come in, in many forms, with the broadcaster merely acting out what was prepared for him. Even with a lot of information about  the broadcaster, how do you make him responsible? trustworthy?

  • http://viktorsblog.com/ Viktor Nagornyy

    I should have been more specific. By support I meant funding and require their staff journalists to create profiles and maintain them updated. How are they supportive now?

    Thanks.

  • http://viktorsblog.com/ Viktor Nagornyy

    I should have been more specific. By support I meant funding and require their staff journalists to create profiles to help increase transparency. Thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/IraStoll Ira Stoll

    Plenty of participation already today and the site is just a few hours old. Thanks

    Curtis Hubbard http://www.newstransparency.com/person/1274/curtis-hubbard

    Chloe Morrison http://www.newstransparency.com/person/1278/chloe-morrison

    Kevin Torres http://www.newstransparency.com/person/1277/kevin-torres

    Come on, the rest of you Poynter readers, get with the cool kids and fill out those profiles!

  • http://viktorsblog.com/ Viktor Nagornyy

    The key to the growth of the site would be to get news media to participate in this project, but that’s going to be next to impossible to do.