Web's inventor to create new online system for rating news

Experimental software that will enable news organisations to help readers navigate through the ‘tsunami of information’on the web will be unveiled this autumn, after its creators won a prestigious competition for online news innovation.

The ‘Journalism Transparency Initiative’which is being run jointly by the Media Standards Trust and the Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI), last week secured $350,000 (£179,000) from the Knight Foundation.

The initiative is the first UK-based project to win a grant from the Knight News Challenge, an annual international competition that funds innovation in digital journalism.

The project will enable news organisations to indicate the quality of their online journalism by tagging news stories with information including the identity of journalists who worked on it, revision histories, and research that contributed to the report.

‘We are going to be swamped by a tsunami of information soon, and enabling people to navigate it is going to be one of the big problems of the next decade or so,’said Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust, a registered charity which aims to foster higher standards in news.

‘One can just see how over time classifying info in different ways and giving people lots of means to navigate in more intelligent ways will be hugely practical,’he said.

The system will enable a reporter entering a story into a content-management system to indicate if it was based on personal observations, documents or interviews with eyewitnesses.

Search engines and other filtering tools could then help readers to find high-quality journalism and assess the credibility of the information they locate.

‘The old types of filters, where you’d get a big media organisation to go through all the information and pick out what it thought was interesting are becoming less and less tenable, particularly in user-generated content,’said Moore.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, and the founding director of the WSRI, accepted the award on behalf of the two organisations at a conference in Las Vegas.

A major part of the project, which has already secured funding from the MacArthur Foundation, will involve creating ways of standardising basic information embedded in online news stories.

The Media Standards Trust runs Journalisted, a website that tracks stories on national news websites and tags them with the name of the journalist who wrote the story, and keywords in the copy.

Moore said the experience of building that site had showed that the use of automated aggregators and filtering tools was hindered by the lack of consistency in the way simple information about stories, such as bylines, are displayed online.

‘They can be buried anywhere – the first or second paragraph, the beginning of the story, or even the end,’he said. ‘It just seemed incredible that of all the basic information you might want to know about a story, even such basic things as who wrote it and for who, is extremely hard to get at the moment.”

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