This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

April 7, 2011 - do you trust the news?

Suppose you're at a party and some guy quotes a "fact." You ask him, "Where did you hear that?" And he says "Fox News."

If you like Fox News, that's credible. If you don't, you're dubious.

Same thing if he says, "NPR." If you think well of NPR, then you're likely to accept it. If you're suspicious of NPR, you're suspicious of anything they say.

But suppose he tells you, "I heard it on both Fox AND NPR."

The odds of that happening may be small. But should such a remarkable consensus occur I'm guessing almost everybody would go along with it. The biases cancel out. When sources on the opposite sides of a political spectrum say the same thing, it just might be true.

That core principle - getting sources from "the other side" - is one of the principles that leads to news trustworthiness.

When Fabrice Florin, who consulted for Music Television and worked for both Apple Computer and Macromedia, approached his 50 year birthday,he found that he wanted to "give back." So he tackled what he saw as a big social challenge: how could he help grow fact-based journalism in the age of the World Wide Web?

Eventually he launched a new non-profit, called Newstrust.net. It builds and offers various online tools to help people "find, check, rate and present trustworthy news."

It's not only high school students who need to think critically. We should all be on the look-out for well-reasoned analysis, not just something that comports with our ignorance or prejudice.

The effort is timely. I just read a Pew Report that said if you're under 30, you now get more of your news from the Internet than from TV. It might be a good thing for our country if our citizens worked a little harder to sort fact from fiction.

You can see the results in a project in Baltimore. Newstrust.net uses a unique "pro-am" approach to rate the news. The idea is that a panel of invited participants, some "pro" journalists and some "amateur" citizens, scan stories in the local paper and rank them according to several crtieria:

* Is it factual?
* Is it fair?
* Is it well-resourced (citing more than one information source)?
* Do you recommend it? And finally -
* Do you trust it?

These panelists then post a review, in essence, ranking the story for credibility. Those reviews add up to a "rating" -- a non-partisan and participatory consensus about the quality of reporting.

What's interesting is that the raters are themselves rated. Readers can also rank the reviews. If well-rated reviewers comment favorably on an article, then the article carries more "weight." It's a credibility filter.

The idea is that people would work their way up the pyramid of trust: visitor, member, reviewer, host, editor, staff. But you have to get positive ratings from a lot of critical viewers to do it. At present, Newstrust.net has about 100,000 visitors, and 5 staff. The rest of the work is done by software.

Isn't that fascinating?

Newstrust.net has partnered with schools. It hasn't yet worked with libraries, although I'm intrigued enough to investigate it further. I'm also intrigued by another collaborative citizen service called Truthsquad (see newstrust.net/truthsquad). It "crowd sources" news fact-checking in a way that feels more like a game than a research project.

Newstrust.net is also interested in digital knowledge "curation" - archiving and providing public access to journalism. That's another potential role for librarians.

For more information, see this video interview: tinyurl.com/libraries-newstrust. Or visit the Newstrust.net national site: newstrust.net/about. Teachers, try this one: newstrust.net/guides/teachers.

It's good stuff. Trust me.

LaRue's Views are his own.


  1. Thanks, Cath. There is SO much misinformation out there. I liked this idea of kind of making credibility a game worth playing.

  2. Great article Jamie! This is something I struggle with daily when lisenting to the news. I'd love to see libraries contributing to make sure information that is presented is factual, accurate. My dream would be to have libraries provide live fact checking during political debates that are presented as the discussion occurs. Twitter would be a mechanism for this. Hmmm, maybe even provide live fact checking during the news :-). Anyway, really liked this blog as it hits home in trying to figure out..what's the (most likely) truth?! Susan at High Plains.