Spotlight: The Trust Project

When did your organization launch and why?

I started the Trust Project about 5 years ago when I realized that news executives were very troubled about the way the digital environment was affecting the distribution of news and the very production of journalism. They felt the tyranny of clicks, so to speak – in that everyone was vying for the most eyeballs and the best placement on search. The core values of journalism were being compromised, they said, because everyone was rushing to push out stories that would get the most attention. Celebrity photos, police mugshots and other junky news was becoming standard fare. As a result, journalists were rightly worried that they were losing the trust of the public. If this was all being caused by algorithms that favor drama and hyperbole, I thought, then couldn’t we change the algorithms to favor journalistic quality? The Trust Project was born. And since then, the misinformation crisis has made our work even more vital.

What does your organization do? What are its main goals? Main projects?

The Trust Project is an international network of news organizations collaborating to show “Trust Indicators” on their pages that explain who and what is behind the news. The eight Trust Indicators tell people about commitments to ethics, inclusion and correcting mistakes, who owns the site, what its mission and practices are, and the experience journalists bring to their work. Our news partners show details about their sources and offer labels and definitions that make the difference between news, opinion and paid content clear. All of this information is tied to machine-readable code that search engines and social media can use. More than 600 million users a month see the Trust Indicators on more than 126 sites in Europe, the U.S., Brazil and Canada, with more sites and regions coming on board now. Our goal is to give people the information they need to make informed decisions about the news to trust, and the technology platforms what they need to surface better quality.

The Trust Project meeting in New York, Wednesday, June 5, 2019. (Photo/Stuart Ramson for The Trust Project)

What makes your organization stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about your organization?

Our consortium is made up of news organizations that care deeply about their role in society and are responding not just to the information crisis itself, but to the public’s expressed wants and needs. We don’t ask people to trust some sort of “black box” ratings of trustworthiness or certify news, instead providing information that people can use to decide for themselves. We also work closely with news distribution platforms such as Google, Facebook and Bing, providing machine-readable signals and other information to help them do a better job serving up trustworthy, relevant and reputable information. For example, Facebook recently began using elements of the Trust Indicators in its context tool for news so people can learn more about a site right in the NewsFeed and also find out about the Trust Project.

What are recent projects or new resources that your organization would like to share with other NAMLE members?

We run workshops with educators, librarians and other civic leaders to encourage them to envision their own applications of the Trust Indicators within their spheres of influence. We’d love to talk with other NAMLE members who are interested in hosting one of these. For these workshops and other media literacy uses, we have handouts describing the Trust Indicators, an interactive example site and live uses on news pages. We also recently collaborated with PEN America on the News Transparency Tracker, a first-of-its-kind digital tool that tracks the transparency of over 50 leading national and regional media outlets. The Newsroom Transparency Tracker encourages media outlets to be accountable to the public and empowers the public to make informed choices about the news they watch, listen to, and read. Along with the full set of Trust Indicators themselves, it’s a great media literacy tool.

What are the connections between the work of your organization and media literacy?

We developed the Trust Indicators through user-centered design research that asked the public what they value in news, when they trust it and when they don’t. Then we worked with news executives to marry these with journalistic values. The Trust Indicators are a very clear set of disclosures that show people how to seek out and evaluate the trustworthiness of a site claiming to be news. They include multiple attributes with explanations and definitions, such as the difference between a piece of news and an opinion article. These definitions and disclosures are shared by all our news partners. The Trust Indicators also build in responsiveness by the news organization to the public, with newsrooms agreeing to have clear corrections policies and their commitment to public engagement spelled out.

Why is media literacy important to your organization?

Journalism has always relied on a relationship of trust between the journalist and their sources, and the journalist and the wider reading public. Journalism is now buried in a sea of misinformation, propaganda and just plain advertising on the internet. Our core mission as journalists has always been to serve the public and provide information people can rely upon to make decisions about their lives, their communities and their government. It’s vital for the survival of journalism and our mission as journalists that people can clearly understand the difference between journalism and everything else – and also participate in the process of making news accountable to the public.

Anything else you want our readers to know about your organization, your mission, or your staff?

We are nonprofit and nonpartisan, and work collaboratively with news organizations and other partners around the world. We’re hiring a community manager right now to work with our news partners: http://www.thetrustproject/communitymanager