Need for Accurate News
A group of Brazilian journalists and researchers have joined to create an avenue to credibility for journalism. The appropriately titled “Credibility Project” is a partnership between the Institute for the Development of Journalism (Projor) and Paulista State University (Unesp), with sponsorship by Google Brazil.
The Project wants to develop protocols and tools to identify and certify reliable content on the internet. The aim is to differentiate quality journalism from “noise” online in the face of a global wave of fake news.
In Brazil, as in the United States, political polarization has contributed to the spread of rumors and distorted information. For example, in the days before Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment in April, three of the five news stories most shared by Brazilians on Facebook were false, according to a survey by the Public Policy Research Group on Access to Information of the University of São Paulo (USP), as published by BBC Brasil.
BuzzFeed made a similar warning: In November the website said that “The ten top-performing false stories about the Lava Jato scandal received more total engagement on Facebook that the ten top-performing true articles.”
It is in this environment that the Credibility Project was formed. It is also being joined by a media consortium that includes: Abraji (the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism); Agência Lupa; Aos Fatos; Folha de S. Paulo; Jornal da Cidade; Jornal de Jundiaí; Nexo Jornal; Nova Escola; O Globo; O Estado de S. Paulo; UOL; and Zero Hora.
The Credibility Project is the Brazilian chapter of the Trust Project, which is based at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in the United States.
In Brazil, the idea for the project started in 2015, when journalist and president of Projor, Angela Pimenta, went to the congress of the Online News Association and heard a talk about the Trust Project. “At the end of the lecture, I introduced myself and said that I would like to take this idea to Brazil. We started talking to Sally Lehrman, Director of the Trust Project,” Angela said. Angela then shared the idea with professor and researcher of the postgraduate program of Media and Technology of Unesp, Francisco Belda, who also works at Projor, and Angela and Francisco began working together on the initiative.
Angela believes that today there are several components that encourage the production of inaccurate information or fake news in Brazil. “We have an environment of great political polarization, a young democracy, and a crisis of confidence in institutions in general. Journalism cannot live without the confidence of its public. If people stop believing in the news, this is bad for journalism because the product loses value. It is also negative for democracy because journalism has the mission of supervising the agents in power,” Angela explained.
An aggravating factor, according to Francisco, is that there is a kind of illiteracy about the news. A journalist with trained eyes can differentiate what is advertising, what is opinion, and what is analysis and reporting, as well as identifying news with little credibility. He said a journalist is able to identify a rigorous investigation process and knows source credibility, but other readers can be fooled by little tricks.
“A lot of people are now being informed on the most varied topics on the internet in an uncritical way. The person trusts a news story because a family member shared it on WhatsApp or Facebook, or because the news appeared prominently when she searched the internet. But these sources are not necessarily reliable,” Francisco said. “Often the reader is not even attracted to reliable news because he ends up finding texts of dubious quality but with a greater reading appeal and more suitable for sharing in social media.”
The Credibility Project is still in its initial stages. First, the group organized a survey of about 300 journalists in December 2016. “We believe those who buy and read the news have the right to know, Who is the author? Are you a trained journalist? Did the journalist go to the street to report? What is the location?” Angela explained.
Francisco intends to incorporate the work of the Credibility Project at his university. “I am currently developing a 3-year research program, theoretical and applied, on journalistic credibility, with master’s, doctoral, and undergraduate students as well as teaching colleagues,” explained Francisco, who is a journalist and has a Ph.D. in production engineering from USP in São Paulo.
One of the project’s missions is to promote the debate about credibility, both in academia as well as in the media consortium. Thus, the Project attempts to bring varied profiles to the media group and to bring together professionals working in newsrooms in leadership positions.
“We have representatives from the fact-checking agencies, from large media outlets and others that are emerging in digital journalism, like Nexo, and are committed to quality journalism,” Francisco explained.
After the debates among the Project participants will come the “hackathons” to develop the protocols. According to the Project coordinators, the objective is not to create a unique source code, tool, or application, but to establish a set of procedures and instructions that can serve as a model for all media outlets.
The initial idea is to construct a layer of metadata in which the journalist can insert other information, markers, and labels about its content; for example, author, references, sources, and geolocation. “These metadata do not have to be displayed, but they will be recorded as a way of tracing and making references in that material,” Francisco said. The first hackathons are planned for this year after the consortium meetings and debates.
To learn more about the Credibility Project, visit their website: http://www.credibilidade.org/
[This article appeared in slightly different form on the website of the School of Journalism, Moody College of Communication, University of Texas at Austin.]