Ira Stoll is 38. He has a Facebook page and a Twitter account. His phone number is (718) 499-2199 and his email is email@example.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.
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?