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TODD SMITH — Trust Project aims to improve opinion of media

TODD SMITH

Can the media earn trust by being more transparent about its ethics and values?

That’s the goal of The Trust Project, an initiative three years in the making that brings together news outlets such as The Washington Post, The Economist, and the Globe and Mail, as well as Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Bing, in a commitment to “provide clarity on the [news organizations’] ethics and other standards, the journalists’ backgrounds, and how they do their work.”

The project will standardize increased clarity so that news organizations, large and small, around the world can use it, and so that leading tech giants can find and incorporate it.

“The public can look at this and say, ‘okay, I know more about what’s behind this organization’,” said Sally Lehrman, senior director of journalism ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University and the creator of the project, which is funded by the Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund, Google, the Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Markkula Foundation. “Hopefully, it will pull back the curtain on some of our practices as journalists, which, in fact, a lot of people don’t know about. And this lack of transparency is partly what creates a sense of suspicion.”

A team of representatives from dozens of media companies worldwide created eight “core indicators”:

» Best Practices: What Are Your Standards? Who funds the news outlet? What is the outlet’s mission? Plus commitments to ethics, diverse voices, accuracy, making corrections and other standards.

» Author Expertise: Who Reported This? Details about the journalist who wrote the story, including expertise and other stories they have worked on.

» Type of Work: What Is This? Labels to distinguish opinion, analysis and advertiser (or sponsored) content from news reports.

» Citations and References: For investigative or in-depth stories, greater access to the sources behind the facts and assertions.

» Methods: Also for in-depth stories, information about why reporters chose to pursue a story and how they went about the process.

» Locally Sourced? Lets people know when the story has local origin or expertise.

» Diverse Voices: A newsroom’s efforts to bring in diverse perspectives.

» Actionable Feedback: A newsroom’s efforts to engage the public’s help in setting coverage priorities, contributing to the reporting process, ensuring accuracy and other areas.

“Think along the lines of a nutrition label on a package of food, or a lab report that conveys your health status when you go in for a checkup,” Lehrman wrote in a post on TheAtlantic.com earlier this year. The Trust Project worked with Schema.org to create a standardized technical language for the tags so that tech sites can incorporate them.

The first wave of publishers going live with the Trust Indicators includes The Washington Post, Mic, The Independent Journal Review, The Globe and Mail, The Economist, Trinity Mirror, The German Press Agency dpa, and Italy’s La Repubblica and La Stampa.

Lehrman tapped these organizations to be first because “those are ones I knew had the technical capabilities to be the demonstrations. I also aimed to experiment with how this would work across different types of media.” The integration of the standard is a heavy technical lift – it needs to be incorporated into publishers’ CMSes and site code. You can check out this Trello board for links to how the Indicators are being incorporated onto various parts of participating publishers’ sites, from “About” pages to author bios to citations and references.

The second wave will probably include a similar number of publishers. The Trust Project also worked with the Institute for Nonprofit News to develop a WordPress plugin that allows qualified publishers to incorporate the indicators into their sites. Eventually, the project will begin scaling more ambitiously.

There are also, of course, the tech companies – Facebook, Google, Bing, and Twitter – that partnered with The Trust Project early on, and will infuse the Trust Indicators into its products in various ways. Partnering with The Trust Project since its conception has been important to Google, in large part because “we believe the indicators can help our algorithms better understand authoritative journalism — and help us to better surface it to consumers,” said Richard Gingras, vice president of news products at Google, in a statement. “We hope to use the Type of Work indicator to improve the accuracy of article labels in Google News, and indicators such as Best Practices and Author Info in our Knowledge Panels.”

Facebook will display the Trust Indicators via the article context feature it launched in October.

For now, the tech giants’ buy-in appears experimental and limited. Nobody is saying that they’ll favor Trust Project partners in their algorithms or anything like that. “You’re not going to see sudden changes with the algorithm,” Lehrman said.

The Trust Project is fundamentally nonpartisan. The Independent Journal Review is the most conservative launch partner, but overall, the project is meant to be a consortium of “news organizations that adhere to traditional standards,” Lehrman said. “The idea is that news organizations are providing information about how they go about their work, who funds them, and what their mission is in terms of coverage. The hope is that, if news organizations are more clear and transparent about what they’re doing, then users can make their own decisions.”

The Center for Media Engagement (formerly the Engaging News Project) at The University of Texas, has been testing news consumers’ reaction to the Trust Indicators over the past few months, and though the full results haven’t yet been released, “the Trust Indicators did create a statistically significant shift in attitude about whether the site was trustworthy,” Lehrman said.

“I am confident that, over time, this will start to build,” she said. “The Trust Project provides a strong sense of how journalism is distinct from other kinds of information. These organizations are independent. They don’t want to be controlled. But they are saying this is a situation where they want to band together to respond to the public need.”

Cornucopia Mic: Kroger’s Zero Hunger program excellent gift to needy 

Kroger Co. recently embarked on an ambitious plan to address what its CEO called the  “paradox” of hunger and food waste simultaneously plaguing American communities.

Dubbed the Zero Hunger | Zero Waste initiative, Kroger is aiming to end hunger in communities where it does business while eliminating food waste across the company by 2025. The effort includes establishing a $10 million innovation fund through the Kroger Co. Foundation to address food waste and hunger; accelerating food donations; improving the quality of donated meals; and advocating for public policy solutions to address hunger.

In addition, Kroger pledged to meet its internal waste reduction goals while working to eliminate food waste entirely by 2025 through prevention, donation and diversion efforts. Kroger will also work with new and existing partners, including the food bank network Feeding America and the World Wildlife Fund, to identify opportunities to achieve its goals.

The Zero Hunger | Zero Waste campaign is an excellent example of corporate good will and citizenship, and is helping make the world a better place by doing what it knows best – food for the hungry! For that, Kroger gets the Cornucopia Mic!

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.

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