Credder: Fighting the scourge of online fake news

Credder is the latest organization formed to tackle the problem of fake news and the flood of low-quality reporting.

Exploiting fakes in the digital age Tonya Hall talks to Shiv Singh, author, founder, and CEO of Savvy Matters, about a new book that explores ways to identify fake profiles in today's digital world.

Credder is a startup with noble ambitions: to fight the spread of fake news and raise the quality of journalism through an online process where professional journalists and select readers judge news stories based on a large number of factors.

I recently spoke with Jared Fesler, co-founder of Credder, about the venture. He said it is inspired by the Rotten Tomatoes movie site that uses professional movie critics and audiences to rate popular movies. 

Credder hasn't fully launched yet but a beta version can be seen at Credder.com. Many of the news stories currently lack a professional rating reflecting its limited launch.

Fesler says that news reporting is driven by the number of clicks. Instead of clickability, news stories should be driven by credibility. 

How credible are the facts in the story, and how credible is the journalist and the publishing organization? Each gets a ranking. For example, the New York Times has a top ranking of 76% from professional critics and 64% from readers.

Stories are evaluated on many factors such as bias, the number of links to supporting information, speculation, sensationalism and semantics. 

Frederic Filloux at Monday Note goes into lots of details on how Credder manages the multiple factors in the scoring of the news stories and reporters.

Filloux also writes about the challenges:

Assembling a team of reviewers for news is tricky; the appreciation of news material itself is highly subjective; bias is an issue as readers who chose to evaluate a story usually harbor strong opinions about it; the whole process is vulnerable to manipulation and trolling.

Fesler believes that Credder will be able to recruit enough journalists to act as professional critics and enough users will contribute their time, too. He says that a relatively small group of critics could easily handle ten thousand news stories a day. And that as few as seven reviews produces an accurate score for each news story.

The business model is not yet set but it could include paying for a Credder rating next to news stories by news publishers and a potential paid distribution model for smaller news sites competing with large media companies.

Foremski's Take: Credder's goals are laudable. However, the method it has chosen is ultimately unsustainable due to the daily reliance on volunteer critics, and the usability of the ratings which are confusing in their present form.

Credder believes it just needs a relatively small number of 10,000 critics to rate an estimated 10,000 daily news stories. But this misses the time-dependent nature of news. The reviewers won't be jumping on every news story as soon as it comes out on the wire and by the time it has collected the minimum number of reviews the next news cycle will have pushed out the older stories within a few hours. 

Focusing on rating individual news stories is a mistake. Credder should be evaluating the credibility of the news organization as a whole. This is because a news story is team product. Newspapers have section editors, sub-editors, etc to check on a story's facts, angle, write its headline, find a photo, and sometimes rewrite the story. 

Each news organization has an in-house process to achieve and maintain its credibility and it's this process that should be rated and judged only by professional journalists. Journalists know the short cuts and the tricks of the profession and can spot them and point them out so that readers are better educated on how news stories are generated. 

By focusing on process it greatly diminishes the volume of daily ratings and encourages news organizations to invest in their editorial process and raise their credibility score -- improving all the news stories from that organization. 

Credder should focus on ten major news stories that were widely read, in each section or industry per day, and look at how they were handled. 

Did the reporter just rewrite a news release or did they take the story further? Did they get original quotes? Did they provide the appropriate context for the news story? Does the reporter have experience in reporting on that topic? Is it a scoop? How much original reporting is in that story?

It would be a next day review but I can guarantee that newsrooms would be reading those critiques and reporters would be encouraged to work harder because of such reviews from their peers. Reader reviews would not get the same attention.

Additionally, the percentage rating is not very useful. The New York Times has a 76% rating so does that mean only about three-quarters of it is credible? Which part is good or bad? 

Also, Credder is not just fighting fake news but taking on the editorial decisions made by newsrooms which have little to do with credibility but are often a means of distinguishing their stories from their competition. Credder should focus on facts and the truth and finding those news outlets that share those same principles.