Non-profit organisation Reporters Without Borders has launched a public questionnaire which seeks to reward trustworthy journalism with greater online reach and increased ad revenue.
In May 2018, more than 120 media experts drafted the Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI), determining consensual professional standards of journalism.
Now, media practitioners and outlets, as well as the general public, are invited to consult on its second phase before the deadline closes on 18 October 2019.
The questionnaire asks participants to provide a range of details around their editorial mission, type of ownership of their media organisation, revenue sources and data collection, right through to training and accountability for errors. It uses standard-setting to address declining levels of trust in the media.
"Ownership, for example, is very much needed to build trust," said Olaf Steenfadt, project director, Journalism Trust Initiative.
"How can you trust someone you don’t know? It’s the case in personal relationships and also in business and media."
It is not the first effort to promote transparency to improve trust in the media, though. The difference with JTI is that in return for disclosure and compliance, media outlets can expect to rank higher on Google searches and Facebook News Feed.
Both Facebook and Google were amongst the first selected participants in the development stage but had no involvement with the shaping of the professional standards, according to Steenfadt.
JTI also aims to increase funding options for news organisations who have more in common with the brands looking to advertise online than they might think.
"Advertisers face the same dilemma we do," said Steenfadt. "That is to identify safe environments online: it’s called brand safety.
"They are also demanding tools from Facebook and Google to do better in this field and we believe if we can manage to align ethic standards with compliance of professional norms, it can help monetise content online."
‘Chase the bad or support the good’
Tackling misinformation is also key to improving trust, Steenfadt continued. While some initiatives look to tackle the bad actors through lobbying for legislation or fact-checking projects, others support those looking to deliver change. JTI looks to do the latter.
"The first approach of chasing the bad always carries the danger of limiting freedom of expression and even be manipulated for censorship, so we want to support the good," he said.
"Now, what is the good? Many editorial guidelines and ethical codes of conduct exist already, even on a global scale - if you put these existing norms next to one another, there is not much deviation. The essence of good and bad seems to be consensual."
At a time when social media platforms have the power to tweak algorithms and determine which posts are promoted and demoted, the idea is to put more power in the hands of journalists and news outlets through standard-setting.
"The ultimate goal is to inject these standards into the algorithms because it should be journalists, first and foremost, to draft these signals and to be in control. No one else.
"We don’t want advertisers, regulators or platforms to tell us what good or bad journalism is, but at the same time we need them to create an enabling environment."
Part of that enabling environment also includes the involvement of governments to support local journalism. There is an opportunity, he claimed, for JTI to be involved in this process.
"Whatever they do, no matter how well-intentioned, they will always face allegations of buying the media. Using a third-party mechanism like us to select beneficiaries and to evaluate its impact afterwards could prove a useful independent instrument.
"The main motivation of standard-setting, by definition, is pre-empting legislation. The industry needs to get its act together before the government kicks in and we are at this point in time in this industry."
This article was updated on 8 October by Jacob Granger to clarify that Facebook and Google have not funded the Journalism Trust Initiative.
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