NewsTrust is now part of The Poynter Institute

NewsTrust-Joins-Poynter-Banner-Slim

I am happy to announce that NewsTrust is now part of The Poynter Institute, a respected journalism training organization based in Florida.

The Poynter Institute has been a NewsTrust partner since 2009 and collaborated regularly to our social news network. They share our commitment to news literacy and journalism education. We think our tools and services will be a great addition to Poynter's News University, their innovative online journalism and media training site.

Effective immediately, Poynter is the new owner and operator of NewsTrust.net, and we are glad to donate our assets to help them further this worthy cause.

As a valued NewsTrust member, you will continue to enjoy the same level of service, and we hope you’ll keep reviewing and posting stories on our site, which will now be curated by Poynter.

If you haven't visited us in a while, come take a look. We have a great selection of news stories for you to review on newstrust.net.

We also invite you to visit Poynter.org and learn more about their programs. And check out News University, Poynter’s e-learning site, which offers hundreds of training modules to anyone who wants to improve their journalism-based skills -- from multimedia to writing, reporting and more. Most of this training is free or very inexpensive. Poynter’s news and media literacy programs are explained on this special page at News University.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank and introduce some of the folks at Poynter Institute who made this acquisition possible: Howard Finberg, Pam Hogle, Vicki Krueger, Kelly McBride, Julie Moos and Kathryn Rende, to name but a few. You will be hearing from them and their colleagues in coming weeks.

I would also like to thank the world-class team that made NewsTrust possible over the years. We have been incredibly lucky to work with a wide range of journalists, educators, technologists and other innovators, including these individuals: Kaizar Campwala, David Cohn, Bill Densmore, Gin Ferrara, Adam Florin, David Fox, Terry Gamble, Kristin Gorski, Dan Gillmor, Mary Hartney, Derek Hawkins, Andrew Hazlett, John McManus, Evelyn Messinger, Ellen Miller, Jon Mitchell, Craig Newmark, Hap Perry, Howard Rheingold, Subramanya Sastry, Debra Shelfo, Kim Spencer, Gene Takagi and Caleb Waldorf, to name but a few. My deepest thanks for all your wonderful contributions to our cause!

I founded NewsTrust in 2005 to help people find good journalism online and make more informed decisions as citizens. Over the past seven years, we have been honored to touch the lives of millions of visitors, and a dedicated community of over 20,000 members grew around this experiment, drawn together by a shared passion for news you can trust. It’s been a true pleasure and honor to curate a daily feed of quality journalism with you all.

In the process, we learned to pay attention to the quality of the news and information we consume every day, and we built better tools to help each other separate fact from fiction. 

Now that we are part of the Poynter community, we hope to reach an even wider network of experienced journalists and students to use our tools, so we may all join forces to “help maintain the integrity, the stability, the progress of self-government” -- a vision that we share with newspaperman Nelson Poynter.

I am deeply grateful to you all for helping us take NewsTrust this far -- and I look forward to our next steps with Poynter in this promising news literacy and civic media experiment. See you online!

All the best,



Fabrice Florin
Founder and Executive Director
NewsTrust Communications
fflorin-at-newstrust-dot-net



P.S.: On a personal note, I have joined Wikimedia Foundation to help engage readers to contribute productively to Wikipedia. It’s a great new assignment, where I am applying some of the lessons we learned together at NewsTrust over the years. You can track our progress here.

I am still active on NewsTrust and will keep sharing interesting stories on media, politics, psychology and technology on my favorite social news network, as I have in the past.

I hope to see you there very soon!

 

__________________________________

COMMUNITY RESPONSES

 Updated on June 20, 2012

 

Here are some of the responses we received from community members and partners after we made our announcement of Poyner's acquisition on June 16, 2012. 

"So glad NewsTrust will continue. I'll make a point of getting more active!" -- Walter Cox

"Fantastic news--and a standing ovation for making it all possible." -- Marsha Iverson

"Thank you Fabrice for dreaming up this experiment. I am a much better media consumer than I was before meeting you via NewsTrust.net. Congratulation for founding, guiding and ensuring the ongoing sustainability of this important resource. Bravo!" -- Dale Penn

"I'm so glad that you've lined up a solid organization to continue all of the good work that you started." -- Philippe Habib

"How prestigious for NewsTrust and how fortuitous for the public! Great news." -- Eve Harris

"Congratulations, Fabrice. A great home for NewsTrust. Good work." -- Bill Buzenberg

"You started something amazing and I would love to see it scale." -- George Polisner

"Congrats on making this happen! NewsTrust will be in very good hands." -- Keith Hammonds

Thanks for your kind words and good insights. We are very grateful for all the encouragement we have received so far, and look forward to our next steps with Poynter.

 

Read more comments on Facebook.

 

Share/Save/Bookmark

Next steps for NewsTrust

Because of your interest in NewsTrust, I would like to give you an update on next steps for our social news network.

After six years building NewsTrust into a valuable online resource, the time has come for me to move on -- and I have just joined Wikimedia as product manager for new editor engagement. My role there is to create new tools to help Wikipedia readers become editors and share what they know. I am very excited about this opportunity, which will enable me to apply many of the lessons we learned together here at NewsTrust, and offer them on a much wider scale. (For those of you who are interested, the first new product I am developing for Wikipedia is a new version of their Article Feedback Tool.)  

As a result, I will no longer be able to run or support NewsTrust's social news service, which I have been funding personally since September 2011, when our funding ran out. Our goal is to continue to offer NewsTrust as an educational service, but no longer as a consumer destination, so the news listings on our home page and topic pages will only be available through the end of February 2012. We are now planning to donate our assets to a trusted nonprofit organization which will provide that educational service, and we expect to make an announcement next month. More on this later.

For now, our social news site will remain live for about another month, but will no longer be curated by any staff members. If you are an existing member or host, please take a moment to correct any errors within your area of expertise. If you are a new member, you are welcome to review stories on our site, but we will not be granting new posting privileges. If you would like to continue to get emails from us in coming weeks, you can subscribe to our daily MyNews email, for a personalized listing of news stories based on your interests. Simply click on MyNews under your name at the top of any page on our site to start your MyNews page, then go to the Email Newsletters page to change any of your email subscriptions. Enjoy ...

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has participated in the NewsTrust experiment for your wonderful contributions to our cause. I have really enjoyed working with you all and I think we have learned a lot together. I hope that we will all be able to carry out these findings into our own lives, to help our communities separate fact from fiction and make more informed decisions as citizens.

Thanks again -- and best wishes to you all!


Fabrice Florin
Founder and Executive Director
NewsTrust Communications




UPDATE: Community Responses (Jan. 16, 2012)
I would like to thank everyone who contacted me to express their support following this announcement. Your kind words mean a lot to me, and I am deeply grateful for your insights. I have excerpted below some of these messages, which reflect the impact that NewsTrust has had on our diverse community. For more perspectives, check our testimonials."


" [NewsTrust] seemed to be a tremendous success on many levels. ... I, for one, was transformed by the experience. Once a proud, vocal, "bleeding heart" liberal, involvement with NewsTrust made me a more compassionate person in my personal life. I now find it easier to disagree without becoming disagreeable, at a time when the political tide seems to continue to swell against such "rash" behavior as compromise. So, if NT did nothing else, it changed my life for the better. I believe I am a better educated news consumer. I am definitely able to around my ultra conservative family members now and understand where they are coming from, even if it isn't a place I personally find logical.Thank you!"
Dale Penn - NewsTrust host and reviewer, Florida


"Newstrust was a Sisyphean effort in many ways, but incredibly worthy. I think all of us who participated benefited hugely from the tools you and your team created to abet critical thinking and informed analysis. I believe your philosophy and the groundwork you laid will continue to have an impact in this constantly morphing world of news and (mis)information. I wish you the best at Wikimedia. They are lucky to have you."
Terry Gamble - Author and former NewsTrust board member, California


"There still is so much good journalism out there, but in the 24-7, Web-driven communications environment in which we all now live, good journalism can easily get lost in all the noise. NewsTrust has been smart and creative in using this new platform to present news and news analysis in a way that promises to engage readers who might otherwise never pick up a newspaper. And in a way that values good journalism as something more than mere 'content.'"
Christine Shenot - Former newspaper reporter at the Orlando Sentinel, Florida


"Congratulations on this new chapter! You did an amazing job building NewsTrust and I know you will thrive in this new role."
Calvin Sims - News Media Program Officer, Ford Foundation, New York


"I just wanted to let you know how much I have appreciated NewsTrust … enjoyed is the wrong word. It has pointed me to stories I never would have found, and over a broad spectrum of opinions/positions. I found out about NewsTrust at an ALA meeting some while ago, and have relied on it ever since."
Pam Soreide - Library Director, Holdrege Area Public Library, Nebraska


"I wish you well, Fabrice, in your newest role. However I must add that to me, this seems like the loss of a whole community. Those of us who have been members for some time and have reviewed and posted and read both stories and others' reviews recognize well many of our fellow members' names and, speaking for myself at least, often look to their reviews of articles to discover how valuable it may be for us to read. As i read the future here, it seems not likely that this community of familiar names (and faces on the page) will survive for long as I believe some organization/administration is necessary in preserving a communal sensibility. I believe this level of interaction is unique in news sites and i will miss it very much, as I will miss also the opportunity to read such an eclectic range of articles and assessments from so many varied sources. I have much appreciation for so many of you other members who have brought such great stories which you h ave assessed as fairly and honestly as we are able."
Patricia L'Herrou - NewsTrust host and reviewer, Virginia


Thank you for your vision and leadership in creating and running NewsTrust. I've learned a lot being a part of it as a member, host, editor, and working on various projects; thank you so much for the opportunity to do so. As you stated in your email, it is true that I have taken what I've learned here and applied it to so many other things. ... I am happy to hear that NewsTrust will live on in an educational context, where I think it will do much good to help students become more discerning news consumers -- something all of society needs!"
Kristin Gorski - Teacher and NewsTrust editor, New York



Many thanks to all of you who took the time to share your thoughts about NewsTrust and what it meant to you. It's been a wonderful adventure for me as well and I am so glad it gave us a chance to work together. I hope we'll get a chance to collaborate again in the future. To be continued ... Fabrice

Share/Save/Bookmark

Our new Truthsquad pilot

Banner_truthsquad_575x100_jul2011

This week, we are excited to announce a new pilot for Truthsquad, the pro-am fact-checking network we are developing with the Center for Public Integrity. As stated in our last update on this blog, we have created a new user experience for fact-checking claims and will be testing it with a weekly truthsquad on our NewsTrust pilot site, through mid-October.

We hope you will participate actively in this short pilot, to help us improve this new service. To get started, can you join the Truthsquad and help fact-check one of these claims? (UPDATED 10-05-2011)

Construction workers are "paying a higher tax rate than somebody pulling in $50 million a year."
By Barack Obama, U.S. president (D)
Is this TRUE or FALSE?

Can you join our truthsquad and help verify this claim? Be sure to read the links to the right of our claim pages and add more links, if you come across any good factual evidence. Also note that we now have a wider range of options for your answers -- as described in the section below. To find out more, read the section below and check our Truthsquad FAQ.

What should we fact-check next? What do you think of our new fact-checking tool? How can we improve this service? Please email us to share your feedback.

We have now concluded our truthsquad of an earlier GOP debate claim by Rick Perry that "the federal government has not engaged in (border security) at all." Our finding: FALSE. We found overwhelming evidence that the federal government has devoted significant resources to stop illegal crossings of the U.S Mexico border, and has dramatically increased its border patrol efforts in recent years.

We also concluded a fact-check of another GOP debate claim by Mitt Romney that President Obama President Obama "went around the world and apologized for America". Our finding: FALSE. We could not find any factual evidence to support this frequent GOP claim about Obama's so-called "apology tour."

We would like to thank all of the NewsTrust members who have contributed to this pilot so far. We really appreciate all of your great insights and hope you are getting as much from this experience as we are. The more we dig together, the more we learn as a community.

If haven't participated yet, give it a try, before our pilot ends next week. It's a really effective way for citizens like us to get better informed about important issues, in collaboration with experienced journalists. Hope to see you on Truthsquad.com!


    Truthsquad-New-Fact-Check-Form-NoLinks-0925

Our new fact-checking form

Here's a quick guide on how to fact-check a claim on Truthsquad. For more tips, check our FAQ.

1. Check the facts
Before you answer, read the links on the right to learn more about this claim. These related stories are posted by our editors and community, and may provide useful factual evidence on this topic. Some of these links support this claim, some oppose it, others are neutral. The more links you read, review or add, the more your answer will count. To rate these links, click on their 'Review' buttons. Review them carefully for quality, accuracy, fairness and sourcing. To post new links, click Add a link.

2. Rate the claim
Once you have checked the facts and reached a decision, click on the slider to rate this claim: is it true or false? or somewhere in between?

Pick an answer from one of these five rating choices:

Truthsquad-True-False-Rating-Bar

For more choices, click on 'Other options' where you can pick one of these answers:

Truthsquad-Other-Options-Bar

Select 'In progress' if you need more time, 'Not sure' if you can't make up your mind, 'Cannot verify' if you can't find reliable facts to verify this claim, and 'Fiction' if you think this claim is a total fabrication, with no factual evidence at all. Only that last answer counts as a rating, the others are not counted.

Once you've picked an answer, it will be posted on this page, along with other answers from our community. You can change your answer at any time.

3. Add a note 
After you've rated the claim, add a note to explain your decision. Focus on facts, not opinions -- and cite your sources. Please be civil (see our guidelines). When you're done, click the 'Save' button. If you like, you can also add a link to factual evidence that support or oppose this claim.

4. Learn more
For more detailed help, check our Truthsquad FAQ.

For more information about this project, check our Truthsquad Overview page -- and the recent articles in The Atlantic and Nieman Journalism Lab.

To learn more about fact checking and journalism, check out these guides:

Our goal for this project is to give you new tools for checking information on the web — and help us learn to separate fact from fiction, with the guidance of professionals.

See you on the Truthsquad pilot site!

Share/Save/Bookmark

Truthsquad Update

Banner_truthsquad_575x100_jul2011

This week, we would like to give you a quick update on Truthsquad, the pro-am fact-checking network we are developing with the Center for Public Integrity.

We spent the summer fundraising, signing up new partners -- and designing a new user experience, which we will be introducing next Wednesday. We hope you will participate actively in next week's extended pilot, to help us test and improve this new service. For more info about Truthsquad, visit the Truthsquad pilot site and sign up, so we can inform you when our new service launches.

Truthsquad aims to revolutionize the field of fact checking by combining the best practices of crowdsourcing with the knowledge of a large nonprofit newsroom and the reach of major online news partners. This new initiative empowers citizens to collaborate with journalists to fact-check controversial claims from politicians and newsmakers. Participants are invited to post questionable claims online, research factual evidence supporting or opposing these claims, and verify their accuracy as a community, with professional oversight.

With the help of our community, we aim to launch Truthsquad.com as a daily service by early 2012. Our goal is to provide new ways to find accurate information and verify suspicious claims on our site and widgets -- featuring our own findings, as well as promoting the work of other trusted research organizations like FactCheck.org, PolitiFact and the Washington Post.

To learn more about our next steps, read the recent articles in The Atlantic and Nieman Journalism Lab.

We are encouraged to witness the rise of a new fact-checking movement, as more journalists join forces to verify claims from politicians -- and expose misinformation during the 2012 elections. The next step is to give citizens a voice in that process, which is what Truthsquad is all about. Stay tuned for more …

 

Fact-checking the GOP Debate 
In the meantime, we thought you would enjoy these links to some great fact-checks on the recent GOP debate, from a wide range of trusted sources. How did the fact-checkers cover the CNN Tea Party Express debate? Compare these reports:

• FactCheck: CNN/Tea Party Debate

• PolitiFact: Fact-checking the CNN/Tea Party Express GOP debate

• Washington Post: Fact checking the CNN and Tea Party Express debate

• Associated Press: GOP debate fact check: A look at the record

• New York Times: Fact Check: Social Security, Health Care and More

• CNN Politics: Fact Check: Did the stimulus create “zero” jobs?

Review more fact-checks (and post your own) on this special feed from Google News.

See you next week on the Truthsquad pilot site!

 

Share/Save/Bookmark

Our final report on NewsTrust Baltimore

Here is our final report on NewsTrust Baltimore, our local news experiment. In this last report, we summarize our activities on this multifaceted project and share some of our key findings about Baltimore's news ecosystem, the impact of our curation and education services on the local community and much more. The pilot overview and our key findings are excerpted below. You can also view the full report here, as a PDF file.


   NewsTrustBaltimore-MemberFaces

Overview

NewsTrust Baltimore was a local news experiment designed to help Baltimore residents find and share good journalism about their community -- and to teach college and high school students to separate fact from fiction online.

This six-month pilot took place in Baltimore, Md., from February to July 2011. It was organized by NewsTrust Communications, a nonprofit social news service, with funding from the Open Society Foundations, a philanthropic organization promoting human rights, justice and accountability.

In this report, we will summarize our activities on this multifaceted project and share some of our key findings, along with practical tips for creating other local news sites based on our tools and methodologies. (Our full report can be viewed here, as a PDF file.)

Our goal for this experiment was to help Baltimore residents – particularly college and high school students -- become better informed and more engaged about local issues. Throughout this pilot, participants learned how to tell apart good journalism from misinformation and how to become more discerning citizens and news consumers.

NewsTrust Baltimore featured some of the best news coverage in Baltimore, selected from a wide range of local online, print and broadcast outlets. Our pilot website provided what we call "a guide to good local journalism" -- a unique social network where our staff and community evaluated the local news ecosystem and identified its most reliable sources.

NewsTrust editors curated the site daily, posting news stories for review on a variety of local topics. Community members were invited to rate these stories and discuss their quality, in collaboration with NewsTrust staff. Their top-rated stories were promoted around the clock on this virtual news hub about Baltimore.

For this project, NewsTrust partnered with over 20 local news organizations, including The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore magazine, the Marc Steiner Show (WEAA-FM), Urbanite magazine and WYPR-FM, as well as online sites such as the Baltimore Brew, Center Maryland and Baltimore-area Patch sites. These media partners invited their audiences to participate in this interactive quest, and many included NewsTrust feeds and widgets on their websites.

We also partnered with several local colleges and high schools, including Towson University, the University of Maryland, Morgan State University, the Baltimore Freedom Academy and Wide Angle Youth Media. These educational partners used NewsTrust to help their students develop literacy skills by rating the news, earning certificates for their work.

With the help of our partners, we served more than 21,048 unique visitors and signed up 535 members, including local citizens, journalists, educators, students and community leaders. Our findings suggest that this community-based social network improved the way participants find their local news and helped participants become better informed citizens.


Findings

We learned a great deal from this experiment. Here are some of our key takeaways.

• Baltimore's news ecosystem is growing

BaltimoreSourceOwnership-235x145 The NewsTrust pilot enabled us to take the pulse of the local news media in Baltimore. We were pleased to discover a thriving news ecosystem, with a growing independent scene that complements the work of mainstream media organizations. Traditional forms of newsgathering are integrating with these new ways to share public information, which bodes well for the future of local journalism.

During our pilot, we identified dozens of reliable news sources, from over 120 publications, many of which our members hadn't heard of before. Our first map of Baltimore's media landscape can help residents learn more about their sources of local news, along with their strengths and weaknesses. The same process could be used for other cities, to survey their local news media with a focus on journalistic quality.

Read more in our blog report: "Mapping Baltimore's news ecosystem" 

 

• A curated feed of local journalism is a useful service

NTBmoreMediaPartners-235x175-1 NewsTrust Baltimore helped residents find good journalism about their city, all in one place. Our staff curated the news daily and posted new stories for review on the site, from a variety of local sources. During our six-month pilot, we served 140,146 page views on our site, and users read 7,550 news stories and opinion pieces.

Overall traffic to our site and widgets was steady throughout, and more than 60 percent of survey respondents said they found the service useful, even when they did not participate actively. Overall, NewsTrust's collaborative evaluation tools, combined with daily curation by our experienced staff, proved particularly effective for surfacing good journalism in Baltimore. 

Read more in our blog report: "Finding good journalism in Baltimore" 

 

• Review tools help students separate fact from fiction

TowsonStudentsPhoto_235x150 Our educational programs and review tools helped more than 250 students become more critical readers and informed citizens. We worked with a dozen local schools and nonprofits to engage their students to review stories on our site and to learn to tell the difference between good and bad journalism.

As a result, 79 percent of the students in our college study group passed our news literacy test. We were more effective in universities than high schools, and we need to design new courses for younger students with low literacy levels. But overall, educators said they found our service effective in helping the next generation of news consumers learn to separate fact from fiction.

Read more in our blog report: "Teaching and building community" 

 

• Social news builds community, online and offline

NewsTrustBaltimore-Faces-Thumbnails-224x150 NewsTrust Baltimore brought together a diverse community of citizens, journalists, students and educators to learn about local issues and how they're covered by news organizations. Online, our pilot site attracted 21,048 unique visitors, with 535 new members generating 3,582 story reviews in just six months.

But we also engaged participants through a variety of offline events, such as meetups, presentations and training sessions. By combining our online social news network with face-to-face meetings, we helped our members make new connections that might not have happened otherwise -- as well as to develop existing relationships. This ability to meet in person is a unique benefit of hosting a local site, and it stands in contrast with our national site, where our exchanges have been mostly virtual so far. 

Read more in our blog report: "Teaching and building community"   

 

• A diverse team is a key ingredient

Bmorestaff2 Building a social network is a team sport, which requires a wide range of skills. For this project, we were very lucky to work with a world-class team in Baltimore with very diverse talents: local editor Mary Hartney (former editor at The Baltimore Sun), community manager Gin Ferrara (former media educator at Wide Angle Youth Media) and writer/researcher Andrew Hazlett (formerly with the National Endowment for the Humanities).

Our national team supported their work and included managing editor Jon Mitchell (Brown University) and engineering manager Subramanya Sastry (University of Wisconsin), with contributions from technology advisor David Fox (Lucasfilm), media advisor Evelyn Messinger (Citizens Channel) and visual designer Caleb Waldorf (The Public School).

Together, they delivered a high-quality service with modest resources, and we all enjoyed a close collaboration. Much of this report is based on earlier posts and observations from our team, which were published on the NewsTrust Baltimore blog during our experiment and which are referenced with links throughout this document. We encourage you to read these full reports at bmoreblog.newstrust.net to get a sense of the unique contributions made by each team member in making this pilot possible.

We were also privileged to collaborate with so many great partners and members who generously contributed time and resources to participate in our experiment. We hope that they got as much from it as we did and that our findings will help them and other communities discover even better ways to find and share good local journalism.  

Read our staff observations on our blog: "Reflections on NewsTrust Baltimore" 

 

• Local sustainability remains a challenge

Little-Man-Big-Wheels-Tools-235x175 We are deeply grateful to Lori McGlinchey, Diana Morris and Debra Rubino at the Open Society Foundations and the Open Society Institute - Baltimore for making this experiment possible; we couldn't have done it without their financial, strategic and logistical support.

We wish we could have discovered a viable revenue model to offer NewsTrust Baltimore as an ongoing service beyond our six-month pilot. But local foundations we spoke to had other priorities, most schools were not ready to pay for our services, and the site did not generate enough traffic to sell ads or subscriptions.

So despite this pilot's many positive outcomes, a longer-term investment would be needed to make this local service sustainable. These sustainability issues could prove to be the most difficult challenge for local news startups to solve -- and might require a close coordination between philanthropic, government, school and business communities.

 Many thanks to all of our partners and community members for their great contributions to this experiment. We hope they got as much from it as we did and that our findings will help them and other communities discover even better ways to find and share good local journalism online. Enjoy!

 

Fabrice Florin
Executive Director and Founder
NewsTrust Communications

 

P.S.: This blog post only contains the first section of our final report. The full report can be viewed here, as a PDF file

Be sure to check our other reports about the NewsTrust Baltimore pilot, which include an analysis of the Baltimore news ecosystem, an editorial report, an educational and community reportfinal stats and survey results, as well as personal observations from our staff and information about NewsTrust's new direction.


P.P.S.: Also check out these recent articles about NewsTrust Baltimore:
(UPDATED Nov. 4, 2011)

An Experiment in Civility - Columbia Journalism Review - By Bruce Wallace

Lessons from NewsTrust Baltimore - Audacious Ideas - Updated findings by Fabrice Florin

Best Media Watchdog Experiment - City Paper - Nice recognition from a trusted local source

NewsTrust Baltimore Findings - WYPR - Interview with Fabrice Florin and Mary Hartney

 

Share/Save/Bookmark

NewsTrust goes open source

Little-Man-Big-Wheels-Tools-154x100Today, we're excited to announce that we are open sourcing the code for NewsTrust.net, our social news platform.

We have just published that code on Github, under the name SocialNews. It runs on the popular Ruby on Rails web framework, which is also open source.

This SocialNews code will enable developers to create their own social news sites, using our platform to help people find good journalism together. We are really happy to make our tools and methodologies available to a broader community.

Last month, we announced a new direction for NewsTrust on our blog, and this open source project is part of that transition. NewsTrust is now pivoting from a standalone news curation site to a consultancy that will serve the needs of larger partners and help their communities become better informed about important public issues.

We are very grateful to our partners at Transitions for providing the funding to make this open source project possible. This will enable them to test new applications of our social news platform in Eastern Europe and other world regions.

Developers can download SocialNews Version 1.0. here and read our technical documentation here. This open source code is licensed by NewsTrust Communications under the terms of the Berkeley Software Distribution ("BSD") license. We are moving on to new projects and don't plan to actively develop or support this code base in the short-term, but we will post code updates on Github from time to time, along with corresponding notes on this page.

NewsTrust also offers a range of consulting services to organizations that wish to help their communities become better informed and more engaged about public issues. For example, NewsTrust can provide development services to help your organization adapt this SocialNews code to create your own social news site. To inquire about our partner services, email us at partners-at-newstrust-dot-net.

The NewsTrust and SocialNews projects were a team effort and we are grateful to all our contributors for their work over the past six years. This SocialNews open source code was prepared by Subramanya Sastry, NewsTrust's engineering manager. The NewsTrust code was written by the following developers: Adam Florin, David Fox, Caleb Waldorf, Subramanya Sastry and Mark Daggett. The following editorial staff members played an important role in developing the various features of this application: Kaizar Campwala, Derek Hawkins, Jon Mitchell, Mary Hartney, Gin Ferrara, Andrew Hazlett. Special thanks to Ezra Fox and the members of the larger NewsTrust community for testing and feedback.

Last but not least, we would like to thank our many funders for helping us develop and improve this software platform over the years. They include the MacArthur Foundation, Omidyar Network, Open Society Foundations, Ashoka, Ayrshire Foundation, Mitch Kapor Foundation, Sunlight Foundation -- as well as private donors such as Craig Newmark and Doug Carlston.

We can't wait to see what new creative uses come out of this open source project. We ourselves benefited greatly from the open source code movement while developing our application and we are happy to return the favor with SocialNews.

Enjoy ...

Fabrice Florin
Executive Director and Founder
NewsTrust Communications

 

UPDATE - Jan. 24, 2012: Here is a NewsTrust Guide for Administrators, which describes how NewsTrust and SocialNews work. This guide includes short tips on how to use our tools, with different sections for members, hosts and admins. It is particularly useful if you have installed SocialNews on your site and would like an overview of its services, with short operating instructions for each tool.

Share/Save/Bookmark

Onward!

Last year, a mutual friend introduced me to Jon Mitchell, who was looking for advice on how to get into journalism, having recently graduated from Brown University. In a matter of weeks after our call, Jon became one of our most prolific NewsTrust reviewers, rising to the occasion to become our managing editor in July 2010. It has been a true pleasure to work with Jon ever since and I am very grateful for his many thoughtful contributions to NewsTrust. In a single year, he took on more jobs than some people get in an entire career, from hosting news hunts to fact-checking politicians, managing online communities, teaching journalism students and promoting our findings on social networks. I am sorry to see him go, but am also rooting for him in his new role as a writer for ReadWriteWeb. For this exit report, I asked Jon to share his personal observations from his experience at NewsTrust, and reflect on how social news sites like ours can encourage more people to grow their news literacy skills. Thank you, Jon, for all your wonderful insights and good luck with your next steps as a journalist! -- Fabrice Florin


Ntavatar

After a year and a half of playing around with it, I'm more sure than ever that NewsTrust is the right tool for the job. As the person responsible for curating the day-to-day NewsTrust experience, the amazing array of features and options was occasionally dazzling, even to me. But I've been away from it for a month or so, having started as a full-time writer at ReadWriteWeb, whose warm review of NewsTrust was among my first impressions of it, and it's a joy to look at this homepage from an ordinary user's perspective again. The homepage is well-organized, rich with content, easy to share, and filled with friendly faces of members. I can hardly imagine a better example of a civic-minded social news network.

The trouble is, the idea of the Web is shifting under our feet. In 2006, when NewsTrust opened, there was no iPhone. Facebook had barely begun to reach the general public. The word "app" scarcely existed to describe what NewsTrust is: a Web app for filtering the news. And the NewsTrust application is powerful. It has enabled this small team to attain some lofty goals. But many more Web apps have sprung up over the last five years, some of them growing at gargantuan scale, and the great ones offer rich content and warm community, too. They also offer tantalizing games, titillating gossip, and videos of cats.

We can only spend so much daily time and energy on the Web, and though we may spend quite a lot, there's always more stuff out there. Herbert Simon described the Information Age as an "attention economy." NewsTrust requires careful attention. It's not always fun, at least not in the way other social networks have defined fun. Separating fact from fiction in the news is a tough job, but, if we want a healthy civic society, somebody's got to do it.

 

Shifting gears

As we decided this summer, NewsTrust is shifting from a standalone news curation site into a consultancy to help larger partners better inform and engage their communities. The idea of crowd-sourcing quality control over the news was a noble one, and I don't mean that it was unrealistic; it just requires a really big crowd. Our email newsletters go out to about 12,000 people, and that drives a good amount of traffic to the site, but there are too many alternatives now. In this heyday of the social Web, a few websites hold sway over most of the crowd, and it's usually the ones with the cat videos.

NewsTrust has kept up with social media all along, with deep Facebook and Twitter integration practically everywhere, but just sharing stories is no longer enough. All news sites have sharing options, usually too many of them. It's expected. NewsTrust demands more than just reading; it asks for analysis, reflection, and reviews. NewsTrust has to do more to get people to go through that effort. Its next challenge is to take this practice beyond the confines of this complex website with its high learning curve and bring the ongoing conversation along with it.

 

Transparency and identity

The best part about NewsTrust is the conversation. The hierarchy of trust on the site produces such high-caliber discussion for a Web forum; it never ceased to amaze me. Fabrice frequently calls it "a clean, well-lighted space," contrasting it with the dingy basements that comments sections so often become on large news sites. NewsTrust's insistence on transparency and disclosure helps ensure mutual respect, although it isn't a community model that works for everyone.

Other social networks, like Facebook and Google+, have chosen a similar approach to pseudonymity. That has proven a controversial choice, because these social networking sites are vying to become the root location of Web users' identities, and many people don't want their Web identities to be public. But NewsTrust needs a more particular kind of community. It doesn't need everyone on the Web to make it work. A dedicated few can add great value for the benefit of many more. Those who are willing to stand up and be counted in the effort to improve the quality of news and information can bear the standard for their fellow citizens.

 

Future applications

I'm excited for the future of Truthsquad, the pro-am fact-checking services we created last year. The first pilots have shown that bringing questionable claims to the attention of many will inspire a few to dig for the truth. The compelling part about Truthsquad is that it offers information that's useful at a quick glance, a one-word assessment of the truth or falsehood of a statement, but it's also open to much deeper exploration of an issue. If NewsTrust is to add value to news stories encountered out on the open Web, rather than in the well-defined constraints of one site, making bite-sized statements about the content will make it more digestible.

I think NewsTrust's educational applications have shown great promise. The tools are flexible enough to custom-build solutions on a case-by-case basis, whether for teaching journalism skills or courses on a particular topic in the news. Check out my report on our 2010 educational programs for more specifics.

I also couldn't be more proud of the NewsTrust Baltimore team and the amazing work they pulled off using NewsTrust tools at a local scale. The reports alone offer a wealth of information about Baltimore's local news ecosystem that didn't exist in one place before.

Whatever new applications are found for NewsTrust's tools and methods, I know they will make for a better Web.

 

Onward!

Fabrice loves to sign his emails with that superhero-like exclamation: "Onward!" It's inspiring to work under that kind of enthusiastic guidance. I can't even begin to thank Fabrice for the opportunity he gave me to work on the NewsTrust project (believe me; I've tried a few times). When I started here, all I had was potential and enthusiasm. Fabrice entrusted me with a title and a range of roles way beyond my years, and it was only due to his patient guidance that I was able to fill them. I hope he's as proud of the work we did together as I am.

And to Kaizar Campwala, NewsTrust's previous editor, who saw enough potential in me to leave the reins in my hands, I owe a great deal. I'm eagerly watching his new endeavors, and seeing what he built here at NewsTrust, I know his work is going to rock the world.

To Subbu Sastry, most patient of engineers, I can't believe what you accomplish every day. Though I learned from everyone with whom I worked here, I certainly learned the most from you. Honestly, if I have any sort of career in what my fellow bloggers call "Tech," I have you to thank. Talking to you about the systems, databases, and languages that make NewsTrust hum along so smoothly was really what inspired me to keep building on the platform every day. And I'll never forget the day Amazon EC2 crapped out on us, and how you single-handedly flipped us over to their beta program for moving regions, bringing NewsTrust back online faster than so many other headline-grabbing Web services. And you saved the day many more times than that.

To Gin, Mary, and Andrew, the NTBmore team, again in no order other than that in which I met you, it was such an honor. You people are so skilled. It has been a joy seeing what each of you has started to get into in your lives after NewsTrust, and I'll definitely be keeping track. Someday, I'd love for us all to work together on something again. Seriously. Call me.

And to the NewsTrust community, whose reviews I've read, whose posts I've tagged, whose validation levels I've increased, whose comments I've liked, you people are what it's all about. All Web communities should have what we've had. We haven't been free of interpersonal issues or strife — every community has those — but we've had such a strong basis for working it out amongst ourselves, and that is rare on the Web. I hope you'll stick with NewsTrust wherever it goes, and, more importantly, I hope you'll carry on the lessons of fairness, accuracy, and transparency we've all practiced together. I know I will.

See you around the Web.

- Jon

Share/Save/Bookmark

Mapping Baltimore’s news ecosystem

As the NewsTrust Baltimore pilot winds down at the end of July 2011, we are publishing a series of reports about our local news experiment. For the past six months, we have provided a free online service to help local residents find good journalism about their city -- and become more discerning news consumers in the process, thanks to the support of the Open Society Foundations.

In this report by staff writer/researcher Andrew Hazlett and NewsTrust founder Fabrice Florin, we’ll share what we have learned about Baltimore's news ecosystem. See also our other reports to date on our blog: our editorial report, educational and community report, survey results and first pilot statistics.

 

How are the news media covering public issues in Baltimore? Are local citizens getting the quality journalism they need to make informed decisions about their lives and government? These were some of the key questions we wanted to address during our six-month NewsTrust Baltimore pilot.

In this report, we will share some general findings about Baltimore’s news ecosystem and provide some details about some of the most interesting news sources we reviewed as a community. Our report is based on more than 3,200 reviews of local news stories and opinions during our pilot. The NewsTrust Baltimore site now features a large compilation of qualitative and quantitative data about the local news media, gathered by our staff and hundreds of community members and students. Through the numerical ratings and written observations of local citizens and journalists, we can now map some of the key players in the city’s news ecosystem, with a first look at the perceived quality of their journalism over the past six months.

 

How Baltimore news happens now

In January 2010, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism published a report entitled "How News Happens." Focusing on a single week in the city of Baltimore, researchers traced several key news storylines as reported in traditional and new media sources. Tightly focused on original reporting of public affairs issues, the study found that newspapers created the vast majority of important news.

The report received a lot of attention when published. As discussed in the New York Times and within journalism circles, the study affirmed the central role of "legacy" print outlets, especially the Baltimore Sun, in generating original reporting that drives all news consumption.

Some took issue with the report’s definition of what qualified as a legitimate news source. At the time the Pew study was released, journalism scholar Jeff Jarvis argued it was a helpful snapshot of a moment in time but did not capture the emerging role of amateur and independent news sources.

Two years after the Pew study’s data was collected, NewsTrust Baltimore now offers new information on how that ecosystem has evolved. Our project is not directly comparable to the Pew study, but it does provide a detailed record of Baltimore news coverage over about six months.

What has changed in the last two years? Our findings reveal a rich, diverse and growing ecosystem of both mainstream and independent news sources in Baltimore.

Where the Pew study focused on a handful of news stories during one week, our project reviewed thousands of individual stories from 120 news sources across a six-month period. While the Pew study included only 10 blogs and online sources that met their criteria, we found newsworthy material from 68 local blogs and online sources, including both professional and amateur operations. We also discovered new or previously unknown sources throughout the life of the project, with informative news stories and insightful commentary from the edges of a rapidly changing news ecosystem. During the six months of this project, we saw some news sources go dark, others come back to life, and new entrants, such as Baltimore Fishbowl, make a splash.

Our observations confirm that Baltimore’s news ecosystem continues to be heavily influenced by The Sun and a few other mainstream news outlets. However, we also found a growing independent journalism scene filled with innovative players, with 70 independent sources representing 37 percent of our story reviews. Across this variety of media, we reviewed quality news and analysis from both independent and mainstream sources, many of which received high ratings regardless of their ownership or size. These diverse journalistic groups complement each other to offer Baltimore citizens a much broader spectrum of factual reporting and insights than we had anticipated when we started this project.

This graphic chart of our top-rated news sources helps visualize some of the key players that stood out for us in the Baltimore ecosystem.

Top10BaltimoreNewsSourcesGraph-0719-600wx408h

Sources are shown as bubbles on this chart, where they are scattered vertically by quality (average story rating) and horizontally by activity (number of stories listed), with bubble size based on number of story reviews. Note that this chart only features sources that had at least 50 stories listed on our site and 35 or more reviews, to insure that their ratings were based on a sufficient body of work. These ratings, calculated on a 5-point scale, are based on story reviews by our staff and "trusted members" (50 reviewers who demonstrated high news literacy skills, earning a member level of 3 or more) -- instead of overall ratings from all community members (many of whom were students who were just learning these skills).

Here's a more detailed listing of our top 20 news sources that met our above criteria, ranked by rating, and showing their number of stories and reviews, using the same data set from Jan. 31 to July 15, 2011.

TopBaltimoreSourcesByRating-360x355

While these charts are based on subjective evaluations over a limited time period and cannot be viewed as definitive quality measurements, they do reflect a general consensus among our trusted members about which sources they found to be informative and credible over the course of our six-month pilot.

We are also encouraged by the fact that four out of ten of the top-rated sources on our bubble chart were independent publications (shown in green), which we view as a positive development for the Baltimore news ecosystem.

The pie chart below shows how Baltimore sources broke down between independent and mainstream publications, with a third of the content coming from independent sources, based on the number of stories listed for review on the NewsTrust Baltimore site.  

BaltimoreSourceOwnership-450x278
 

And here's how the same story data set can be broken down by media type. Again, we note a wide range of diverse media types, particularly online, to complement the steady output from such newspapers as The Sun, The Post, City Paper and The Daily Record.

BaltimoreSourcesByMedium-450x280  

For more information on how local news sources in various media contributed to the overall news coverage, read our earlier report on the NewsTrust Baltimore blog, where we offered general observations and specific examples of interesting work in print and wire services, television, radio, and online sources.

By necessity, NewsTrust focuses on content that is readily available online. Unfortunately, this excludes a number of broadcast and print-only sources, as well as outlets that restrict access to paying subscribers. Our mission is to help people find good journalism online, so we can only review stories that the public can view on the Internet. This constraint may also exclude under-resourced newsrooms and small neighborhood papers, but readily shared online content is not just a convenience for NewsTrust editors -- it should be an important goal for any entity that works to inform the public.

 

Featured Baltimore news sources

To complement our overview of Baltimore’s news ecosystem, we feature below brief descriptions of some of the most interesting and representative news sources we reviewed during our pilot, along with links to their source profiles on our site. We selected a handful of major players and some unusual outlets that operate in various corners and niches of the city’s news and information ecology. We like to think of this short list as a "core sample" of the diverse media and styles that compose Baltimore’s news environment. For a complete list of sources we have found, we encourage you to explore our source listings -- and you can even rate these sources here, all on one page. Our many issue-focused News Hunts also provide rich detail on more of the sources that our community evaluated in the course of the project. 


The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore’s news "solar system" typically revolves around The Sun, its newspaper of record. Like many newspapers in recent years, The Sun has weathered a revolution in how people consume information, an unprecedented economic crisis and ownership changes. Despite some dire predictions, The Sun has proven flexible and adaptive as the media landscape has changed around it. In the course of our project, no other source came close in number to the 1,171 Sun stories reviewed by the NewsTrust Baltimore community (out of 1,471 Sun stories listed on our site). The Sun excels in coverage of Baltimore’s government at the local and state level and Maryland’s delegation in Washington. No other news source was as comprehensive, in our observations.

NewsTrust Baltimore community members were particularly interested in reading and reviewing the work of Sun reporters Justin Fenton, Michael Dresser, Julie Bykowicz, Julie Scharper and Annie Linskey. These journalists cover crime, transportation and politics at the city and state levels. These are the same topics on which NewsTrust community members have sought out The Sun’s expertise.

We have found The Sun to be an excellent source of both in-depth news and up-to-the moment breaking stories. The online presence of the newspaper is timely and interactive. Blogs maintained by columnists and reporters complement news stories with analysis, context, and (when moderated) a forum for civil public debate.

Here are some notable stats we collected in our evaluation of The Sun, as shown on its source profile on our pilot site:

Overall Rating: 3.8*.
Number of Stories Reviewed: 1,171.
Highly rated for: Facts, Fairness, Accuracy, Information and Relevance. 
Topics covered: Politics, Business, Living, Education, Crime, Sci/Tech, Maryland General Assembly, Health.
Most reviewed authors: Justin Fenton, Michael Dresser, Julie Scharper. 

* All source ratings in this report are on a scale of 1 to 5 and based on a weighted average of story reviews by trusted members, rather than all reviews by community members, for reasons outlined above. As a result, these ratings may vary from the community-wide ratings shown on our public site. 


The Daily Record

The Maryland Daily Record is a statewide business and legal newspaper, published six times a week. The paper reports on commerce, finance, law, business, construction and real estate, with a focus on Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

During the NewsTrust Baltimore experiment, The Daily Record contributed a great deal of enterprising reporting. The launch of our project coincided with a widely-cited investigative series that highlighted problems and setbacks in a massive development project around Johns Hopkins Hospital. The stories generated a City Council hearing and numerous substantial comments from our community. In addition to specialized business news, The Daily Record has established expertise and relevance well outside its niche market.

Overall Rating: 3.7.
Number of Stories Reviewed: 161.
Highly rated for: Facts, Accuracy, Relevance, Transparency. 
Topics covered: Business, Politics, Law, Development, Courts. 
Most reviewed authors: Rachel Bernstein, Nicholas Sohr, Melody Simmons.


City Paper

The Baltimore City Paper dedicated itself in 1977 to provide an alternative source of news and opinions on local politics, communities, culture and the arts in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

While it remains proudly alternative, it has also become something of an institution in Baltimore. Our community members rated the City Paper highly for its blend of lifestyle news and accountability journalism. That combination may be one reason for the paper’s longevity and continued relevance. As an illustration, NewsTrust reviewers praised City Paper stories on subjects ranging from the city’s Environmental Control Board to internet-enabled amateur ornithology

Anna Ditkoff’s Murder Ink column has ensured that homicide victims receive more dignity than is possible in scant police blotter reports.

Overall Rating: 3.7.
Number of Stories Reviewed: 150.
Highly rated for: Facts, Accuracy, Relevance, and Transparency.
Topics covered: Politics, Living, Business, Crime, Culture.
Most reviewed authors: Edward Ericson Jr., Van Smith, Anna Ditkoff.


Urbanite

Publishing a host of stories about innovative people and projects in Baltimore, Urbanite magazine engages in a very direct form of civic journalism. In addition to food, arts and lifestyle reporting and criticism, the magazine has sponsored competitions and exhibitions that encourage creative solutions to urban problems. In addition to a freely distributed print monthly, Urbanite has developed a robust online presence and a new project called The Great Baltimore Check-in -- an interesting integration of social media, location-based services, serious issues and recreation.

Overall Rating: 3.9.
Number of Stories Reviewed: 138.
Highly rated for: Sourcing, Style, Accuracy, Context, Relevance. 
Topics covered: Living, Politics, Business, Culture, Arts, Sci/Tech, Food. 
Top authors: Greg Hanscom, Cara Ober, Michael Corbin.


WBAL-TV

WBAL-TV is the NBC-affiliated television station in Baltimore. It is one of the flagship stations of the Hearst Corporation, which also owns sister radio stations WBAL and WIYY.

Among Baltimore television stations, the NewsTrust community had particularly strong praise for WBAL-TV. Our editors and community members were drawn to the station’s approach to the news. Strong investigative work by Jayne Miller and other reporters is one distinctive quality of WBAL-TV’s work. Its sister station, WBAL Radio, was also rated highly for its coverage of local issues by NewsTrust members.

Overall Rating: 3.5.
Number of Stories Reviewed: 49.
Highly rated for: Facts, Fairness, Enterprise, Relevance. 
Topics covered: Politics, Baltimore City, Business, Crime, Living, Youth.
Most reviewed authors: Jayne Miller, Sheldon Dutes, Barry Simms.


WYPR

WYPR is the local NPR affiliate, serving the metropolitan Baltimore area and Maryland with a goal to provide radio programs of intellectual integrity and cultural merit that aim to strengthen the communities it serves.

WYPR spurred the most reviews on NewsTrust Baltimore from among Baltimore’s radio stations. WYPR has reserved a large portion of its airtime for local news and analysis. From in-depth cultural coverage to daily interviews with newsmakers, it seems fitting that our community ranked WYPR especially high on the "originality" and "insights" scales.

Though it can be difficult for broadcast-oriented outlets to extend their work onto online platforms, WYPR has done an admirable job of enhancing their radio journalism with podcast versions and additional material.

Overall Rating: 3.7.
Number of Stories Reviewed: 113. 
Highly rated for: Facts, Originality, Information, Insights. 
Topics covered: Politics, Living, Business, Health, Sci/Tech, Arts.
Most reviewed authors: Sheilah Kast, Stephanie Hughes, Tom Hall.

 

Baltimore Brew

The Baltimore Brew is a daily online journal featuring independent reporting and informed commentary about greater Baltimore. Founded by Fern Shen, a former Washington Post reporter, the Brew has proven to be a strong source of original reporting and opinion writing on several beats. The Brew has published many news-hunting scoops and informed analysis. By pursuing several stories on an ongoing basis, the Brew has developed authority on such topics as urban bicycling, the Sparrow’s Point steel mill, and downtown development projects. Despite its modest resources, the Brew is an enduring example of quality work outside the institutional frameworks of traditional journalism.

Overall Rating: 3.73.
Number of Stories Reviewed: 274. 
Highly rated for Relevance, Originality, Insight, Accuracy, Information. 
Topics covered: Politics, Business, Living, Transportation, Education, Sci/Tech, Industry, Development
Most reviewed authors: Fern Shen, Mark Reutter, Gerald Neily.

 

Other noteworthy sources

The prolific and highly-rated sources we featured above were staples of Baltimore’s news diet during our study period. But there were many other quality sources that added flavor, variety and some other essential ingredients. 

* The Afro (formerly The Afro-American Newspaper) is rooted in a rich history dating back to the 19th century. The Afro was highly rated for the information it conveyed and the relevance of its reporting on the black community. It is published from a point of view and cultural context that is underrepresented in Baltimore’s media landscape.

* Baltimore magazine has been published for more than a century and, in addition to stories boosting the local dining and cultural scenes, it provided quality journalism on a number of public issues, as well as in-depth profiles of intriguing individuals.

* AOL’s Patch network of hyperlocal news websites has extended into Baltimore and its suburbs. Patch sites regularly broke stories in the region and covered local community issues particularly well. For example, the Towson Patch was one of our most highly rated sources. The daily churn of neighborhood news stories and event listings proved valuable, but there were also investigative pieces like this one which questioned the authenticity of "grassroots" efforts to push for more speed cameras in Baltimore County.

* The Washington Post does not actively cover Baltimore, but it provided quality news and analysis about Maryland politics, earning a consistently high rating from our reviewers.

* The Maryland Reporter, a nonprofit news operation, provided close coverage of local and statewide politics, producing "wonky" watchdog coverage and a number of stories that no other outlets covered.

* Center Maryland, a nonprofit online news aggregator, added depth, detail and texture to our understanding of the state legislative session in Annapolis and helped us find many quality news stories about local politics which we might otherwise have missed.

* Investigative Voice is an adventurous and energetic source of reporting on crime and politics in Baltimore. While it had a relatively low rating on NewsTrust Baltimore, its reporters and editors worked to break stories on the police and corruption beats.

* Bmore Media reports weekly on social and business innovation in Baltimore and has developed into a formidable source several years after a somewhat rocky start in the city.

 

The Baltimore blogosphere

In contrast to the Pew study of Baltimore’s news scene, we found a plethora of blogs and other online sources generating news and opinion. Some published only occasionally, others more regularly, but all added something to the conversation. The many voices conversing in the city’s blogosphere include community organizations, impassioned advocates, nonprofit policy groups and private individuals. 

* Adam Meister, who blogs about Baltimore city politics on the Examiner and Charm City Current, did some digging into property records and broke a story that travelled up the media food chain to the point that a City Council member filed a lawsuit against him.

Unsung Baltimore is an example of a personal blog that also covers events and reports news. Written by Kevin Griffin Moreno, a local nonprofit staffer and active NewsTrust Baltimore member, the blog contains personal reflections, and, from time to time, reporting on events in the city. His post "Walbrook Film Project Teaches Students About More Than Holding a Camera" is an example of the real journalistic value that can emerge from a personal blog. 

* The Baltimore Slumlord Watch blog falls outside a lot of our usual categories and measures. It is an anonymous, single-minded blog repeating a steady drumbeat of attention on one issue plaguing Baltimore: neglected properties that degrade the physical and economic landscape of the city, as well as the living conditions of tenants and neighbors. As evidenced by this interview with The Baltimore Sun’s Jamie Smith Hopkins and some recognition from City Paper, the blog has made an impact on a major civic concern. This post on a particularly egregious case of landlord neglect is an example of this blog’s striking work: "Breaking a Rule."

* Audacious Ideas is a blog "created to stimulate ideas and discussion about solutions to difficult problems in Baltimore." It features insightful opinions about important local issues from a variety of community leaders and innovators in Baltimore. Disclosure: this blog is published by the Open Society Institute - Baltimore; its parent organization, Open Society Foundations, funded the NewsTrust Baltimore experiment.

 

Tweets, updates, streams and flows

During the NewsTrust Baltimore pilot, we have also seen local journalism that does not fit easily into traditional notions of the news media. Increasingly, news gathering and reporting can fall outside the form of an article composed of text for publication on paper or on a static website. We have certainly seen examples of professional reporters — notably The Baltimore Sun’s Justin Fenton and Julie Scharper — using Twitter in innovative ways. Staffers at The Sun also used the Storify service to curate and collect Twitter and Facebook posts from public figures and citizens reacting to the death of former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Email newsletters and discussion lists, often keyed to particular neighborhoods, are also an important news source for some Baltimoreans. The Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance blog lists seven active neighborhood listservs that focus on city parenting.

Within Facebook’s "walled garden," individuals and organizations make announcements and report new information. Communities coalesce around shared interests to share news and perspectives (see, for example, the active Baltimore Tech group).

Baltimore has even become home to a local variation on the web-enabled anonymous-leaking trend in BaltiLeaks. Baltimore Government Watch was also created in the same vein, though quickly shut down.

 

Conclusion

In the course of half a year, we have had an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the Baltimore news ecosystem. We have been impressed by the overall quality and diversity of the local news landscape. We have seen vital and innovative work by media organizations founded before the Civil War, as well as important news-breaking by amateur bloggers. Our tools helped surface and spotlight quality journalism from many sources in many media -- both mainstream and independent. Even in a time of transition, Baltimore's journalists are providing vital information to area residents.

As Clay Shirky has written about the news media, the local news scene is in a state of flux with more than a little creative chaos. But patterns are emerging. As news startups and impassioned individuals become more rigorous and as traditional news organizations become more open and responsive to the public, there is a growing opportunity for collaboration across the local journalistic community. The energy and reach of amateurs can combine effectively with the expertise, contacts and judgment of professionals. Enabled by social technology, including tools we use at NewsTrust, we are beginning to see deeper connections among all those who seek trustworthy information about their communities. In "Links that Bind Us" — a summer 2011 report from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University — many scholars and analysts explored this networked future of the news. We have witnessed, online and in person, ample evidence of the importance of community and collaboration in building a healthy news ecosystem. 

A local nickname for Baltimore is "Smalltimore," a reference to the city’s tight-knit communities and the first-name basis of many social relationships. In reality, many divides and differences remain. A major achievement of NewsTrust Baltimore has been through our formal partnerships and informal connections with the many individuals and organizations contributing to the local news ecosystem. At our social events and on our website, the people producing quality journalism in Baltimore found a "clean, well-lighted place" where they could meet and exchange ideas with each other and the public. We believe that NewsTrust Baltimore has in effect catalyzed the same community we were invited to study.

As a result, personal bonds were formed between independent and mainstream journalists that might not have developed otherwise, and we are grateful to the local journalism community for participating in this project and for making us feel welcome in their midst. Our experience was itself evidence of Baltimore journalists' openness to experimentation and innovation.

New sources and new journalistic practices are emerging to feed citizens’ information needs. The media landscape is changing rapidly, and news organizations are adapting and transforming as well. Like the 2009 Pew study, our experiment may be capturing moments of transition. Overall, we see substantial progress in legacy media and new independent sources of local news, which encourages us to be optimistic about the future of journalism in Baltimore.

-- By Andrew Hazlett, writer/researcher, NewsTrust Baltimore; and Fabrice Florin, NewsTrust founder 

Share/Save/Bookmark

A new direction for NewsTrust

Little-Man-Big-Wheels-Tools-154x100 NewsTrust will be taking a new direction this month, to adapt in a rapidly changing news media landscape.

To fulfill our mission more effectively, we will pivot our nonprofit organization from a standalone news curation site to a consultancy that will serve the needs of larger partners and help their communities become better informed about important public issues.

Our initial focus will be on fact-checking services to expose misinformation in the public debate. To that end, we have partnered with the Center for Public Integrity and Craig Newmark to develop Truthsquad.com for the 2012 U.S. elections. We created this pro-am fact-checking service last year to help citizens and journalists work together to separate fact from fiction. Read more on our Truthsquad pilot site.

News sharing on the web is now primarily taking place on large social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, reducing the need for curated news sites like NewsTrust.net. As a result, our site traffic has decreased in recent months and we no longer have funding to pay for our daily news curation service, which we have offered for the past five years with support from foundations and private donors.

Instead, we see an emerging need for quality fact-checking services and collaborative evaluation tools, which we think we can effectively provide by extending our innovative social media platform to serve partner communities on their sites. We will also explore partnerships that enable us to provide news literacy and civic engagement services through consumer and educational channels.

This new strategy supports our overall mission to help people find good journalism and credible information online, but it does so more effectively, by shifting our focus to services that can be sustained over time, in collaboration with our partners.

We reached this decision through extensive deliberations over the past six months with our board of directors, our staff, advisors, hosts, partners, funders and other members of our community. Most people we spoke to agree that this is a logical development for NewsTrust -- and we all look forward to our next steps together on this new course. 

What will change on NewsTrust?

At the end of this week, on Friday, July 15, we will discontinue our daily news curation service on NewsTrust.net. The home page of our website will promote partner activities and reports, instead of a daily featured news story. We will still provide news listings below the fold on our home page, as well as on other pages on our site, and NewsTrust members will be able to post and review stories on these pages. But these listings will no longer be moderated or curated by our staff on a daily basis -- and we will no longer send daily newsletters, since we cannot guarantee their quality without staff curation.

Our last daily email newsletter will go out this Friday. We will continue to offer our weekly newsletters for the next few months, highlighting some of the most trusted news stories of the week, according to our reviewers. These newsletters will be curated by a NewsTrust staff member, to insure a quality news listing. If you now subscribe to our daily newsletter, you will automatically receive these weekly newsletters every Wednesday at 4 p.m. Eastern time (1 p.m. Pacific), starting next week.  

If getting daily emails from us is important to you, you can subscribe to our daily MyNews email, which provides a personalized listing of news stories based on your interests every morning at 6 a.m. Eastern time (3 a.m. Pacific). This automated service is available at no charge to all NewsTrust members, and only takes a minute to set up on your MyNews page (if you're not yet a member, read more about MyNews here). Of course, you can change any of your email subscriptions on our Email Newsletters page, once you are logged in.

If you are a member of NewsTrust Baltimore, check our separate blog post to see how these changes will affect your local service. Daily curation on this local news pilot in Baltimore will end on July 31, and all local email newsletters will discontinue at that time.

We will also make a few more changes in coming weeks, to make sure that our crowdsourced news listings serve the best interests of our community. For example, stories that have been rated highly by trusted members will be featured more prominently. And NewsTrust members will only be able to post up to five stories per day, to prevent any individual from flooding the site with content that others may not find as useful. If you have any feedback or questions about any of these changes, please contact us at feedback-at-newstrust.net.

Make a donation

If you value our work at NewsTrust, we invite you to make a donation today to support our cause in this time of need.

Personal donations from supporters like you are more critical than ever before, as our foundation grants have declined in recent years.

Please help NewsTrust continue to serve its civic mission. Your contribution will support free public services such as our educational programs in colleges and high schools, fact-checking services, quality review forms, literacy guides, weekly email newsletters, news widgets and RSS feeds -- and more great ways to help people get better informed.

Your donation is tax-deductible as a charitable contribution. NewsTrust Communications is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public benefit corporation (Tax ID: 32-0251525). For more information about NewsTrust, check our profile on GuideStar, which includes our financial reports. Or email us at donations-at-newstrust-dot-net with any questions about contributing to NewsTrust.

Please make a donation now, to help us make a smooth transition during this critical time.

Thanks for your understanding. We're deeply grateful for all that you and other community members have done to support NewsTrust over the years!

 

Fabrice Florin
Executive Director and Founder
NewsTrust Communications

Share/Save/Bookmark

Editorial report: Finding good journalism in Baltimore

This blog post about our NewsTrust Baltimore local news experiment was written by NewsTrust Baltimore editor Mary Hartney and originally published on our Baltimore blog on July 6, 2011. It is republished here for the benefit of our national community.


As the NewsTrust Baltimore pilot winds down at the end of July, we are preparing a series of reports about our local news experiment. For the past five months, we have provided a free online service to help local residents find good journalism about their city -- and become more discerning news consumers in the process. 

In this report, we’ll take a look at the site’s editorial operations and activities, as well as media partnerships. We’ll also make recommendations for future local news sites. Find our first two installments of these reports here and here

 

How we edit the site

NewsTrust Baltimore was edited by a team of three local staff members: Mary Hartney, local editor; Gin Ferrara, community manager; and Andrew Hazlett, writer/researcher. Community hosts and partners were also invited to lead editorial activities, such as news hunts, as described below. Other contributors to our editorial operations were two national staff members: Jon Mitchell, managing editor, and Fabrice Florin, executive director. 

5531290884_b2534df7bb_m Throughout the pilot, NewsTrust Baltimore was updated with dozens of new stories every day, including weekends and holidays. We posted stories we found newsworthy, from a wide range of sources, by looking at NewsTrust feeds, personal RSS readers, local social media, and the websites of local news organizations. 

The NewsTrust Baltimore home page had seven feature spots at the top of the page, three of which were for an editor’s picks – a large feature spot, with a photo, at the top of the page, as well as one news and one opinion piece in the six-story grid. Our goal was to refresh these picks and the overall home page by about 9 each weekday morning, as our traffic would spike around 10 a.m. On weekends, we aimed to update the site by 11 a.m.

Featured picks were selected with a goal of showcasing a diversity of sources, topics and media types. The main featured story was most often a news story, but opinion pieces were occasionally highlighted. Photo thumbnails were picked from the news organizations whose work we featured, or from sites like Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.

Editors were also responsible for preparing and sending a daily email newsletter to a few hundred email subscribers. This originally went out at noon Eastern time, and it was later changed to 2 p.m. to feature more community reviews from the day. Because of this newsletter, we also saw traffic spike at 2 p.m. on weekdays, as people clicked through to the site from the email. The top of the newsletter featured highlights from that week’s editorial efforts on the site, as well as a list of automatically populated recent news and opinion stories. 

Local staff members also frequently updated the NewsTrust Baltimore blog and Twitter and Facebook feeds. We used the blog to introduce and summarize our editorial activities, as well as to report on interesting work by our partners and community events. We used our social media feeds to promote these blog posts, and we also pointed to stories and good journalism from a variety of Baltimore sources.

In the first several months, we were continually adding new sources and feeds to the site to ensure that all sources of journalism in the area were represented. By the end of the pilot, we had more several hundred sources we regularly scoured, posted and reviewed, and this diversity was reflected daily on the home page. 

The content on the site was constrained geographically – we sought to only include stories about Baltimore City and County, as well as stories that affected the entire state, including news from the state legislature session. At times, those stories came from sources not based in the city or county, including newspapers like the Frederick News-Post and the Hagerstown Herald-Mail writing about statewide news. While there are many excellent news organizations and blogs writing about other areas of the state, the constraints helped us focus what was included on the site and was a necessary distinction, given the resources of this project.

 

Community activities

During the pilot, we offered a number of activities to engage our members in the editorial process and seek out good journalism as a community about Baltimore and Maryland.

News hunts

In the first several months of NewsTrust Baltimore, we featured weekly news hunts on a variety of topics, and our media and educational partners were often guest hosts during these activities. A news hunt is sort of like a scavenger hunt for good journalism on a given topic, such as transportation or education. During a news hunt, we would aim to feature stories about the selected topic on the home page and to drive members to post and review stories on the topic pages. We previewed each news hunt on the blog, promoted it in the newsletter and on social media, and we posted about the hunt’s findings on the NewsTrust Baltimore blog the following week. 

News hunt topics ran the gamut: 

During a news hunt, we asked guest hosts to post and review at least one story on the topic, and they could also make news and opinion "host’s picks" on the topic pages. These hosts often pointed us to stories and sources we wouldn’t have otherwise noticed, and their reviews and comments added richness to the discussions about journalism on the site. 

In our first politics news hunt, Howard Libit, co-founder of Center Maryland, helped set the tone for the site and pointed us to additional Maryland sources who were covering state politics, including The Gazette suburban newspapers and pieces from the Frederick News-Post.

Libit said of the experience: "While I have always been a consumer of a lot of different sources of news, looking at stories through the NewsTrust filter forced me to think more critically about what is being reported, what is missing, and how stories are written. It was definitely a useful exercise in fine-tuning how I think about coverage of news. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many different media outlets producing so many different quality stories."

Another interesting news hunt was conducted with Urbanite magazine, which was holding a contest about the Red Line, an east-west transit project planned for Baltimore City. Urbanite used NewsTrust Baltimore to collect stories about the Red Line, dating as early as 2004, when the project began to be discussed, as well as more recent coverage about its construction. 

During this weeklong news hunt, Urbanite assistant editor Rebecca Messner posted and reviewed a number of stories about the Red Line on a special co-branded topic page, and Urbanite was able to point its print and online readers to NewsTrust Baltimore to find a historical record of the Red Line project. During that week, we also looked at general transportation stories, a consistently hot topic in Maryland. 

For Urbanite’s "Open City Competition," Messner said, "We're looking for thoughtful designers to make a positive lasting impact on the communities who will be affected by the construction of the Red Line. To do this, they need to see the whole picture, and they need to have access to the best journalism available on the subject. NewsTrust is a great way to make this happen."

When possible, we scheduled a news hunt to coordinate with a news organization’s editorial calendar. During a special two-week news hunt on community, in which we looked at the wide-ranging definitions of the term, we worked with Fern Shen of the Baltimore Brew. The timing of the news hunt matched up with the Brew’s release of a series of articles on "The State of Your Block," a project that sought Baltimoreans takes on their own neighborhoods, and a riff on recent "State of the State" and "State of the City" speeches from Maryland politicians. The publication of these user-generated pieces and our look at community dovetailed nicely.

Another notable news hunt was an in-depth look at youth, part of a partnership with nonprofit and educational partner Wide Angle Youth Media. Several Wide Angle staff members and interns posted and reviewed stories about youth, seeking coverage beyond crime stories about teens or the occasional "outstanding young person" article. It was an enlightening news hunt for both NewsTrust and Wide Angle staff, as well as for our members. 

Other editorial efforts

When we announced our second round of funding for NewsTrust Baltimore, we began to branch out from these weekly news hunts and experimented with other ways of engaging our members around content. In April, we structured a week around promoting long-form journalism that users may have missed. We also drove for reviews on opinion pieces during another week.

There were several weeks where we did not have scheduled news hunts, as we wanted to be nimble and adapt to breaking news. During one of these weeks, William Donald Schaefer, a former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor and comptroller, died at age 87. News organizations began producing droves of extra content – obituaries, news stories about his funeral, and dozens of remembrances of the politician. We were able to respond quickly to the news and set up a Schaefer page to collect these articles. This became a de facto news hunt, and our collection was a popular destination for people wanting to read more about Schaefer’s life and legacy.

Also during that week, we featured a “news comparison” on the home page, which pointed to three different remembrances of the politician and asked readers to compare and contrast the three. We conducted a handful of other news comparisons during the course of the pilot.

In May, we rolled out an ambitious project. We wanted to look at different types of media – print, TV, radio and online – and to see how these different media were covering some of the bigger issues affecting Baltimore. We described this as a monthlong news hunt and envisioned it as a cross-section of media types and specific topics. Each week, we pointed readers to stories and sources from that week’s featured media type and asked for their reviews. 

After each week, we wrote a blog post summarizing our findings and pointing to particularly interesting stories. At the end of the experiment, we compared and contrasted the different media and their coverage and story choices over the course of the month. Over the course of the month, NewsTrust Baltimore editors and community members reviewed 238 stories. Of those, 28 were rated and 27 were determined to be most trusted. These highly regarded stories gave us a sample of the city’s preoccupations and a good sense of how different media cover Baltimore’s most pressing issues.

Additionally, just before kicking off this news hunt, we rolled out a new feature on NewsTrust Baltimore, where members could rate and review news sources, in addition to individual stories. If reviewing story is like reviewing an entrée at a restaurant, then reviewing a source is akin to commenting on the restaurant. May’s monthlong news hunt by medium was an effective way to point users to this new source-rating feature.  

Truthsquad

In June, we launched our first local Truthsquad, as part of NewsTrust’s community fact-checking service. We selected a quote to examine, from Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, that Maryland has "America’s number one public school system." Over the course of two weeks, NewsTrust staff and community members voted on whether this statement was true or false and added and reviewed relevant links. 

We had more than 40 participants vote and 16 related stories posted. We also saw several journalists and commentators take part in this Truthsquad, including Kyle Leslie and Lawrence Lanahan of WYPR and Marta Mossburg of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, who is also a columnist for The Baltimore Sun and the Frederick News-Post.

After reviewing the evidence, we found the statement to be "half-true." O’Malley’s claim references a ranking from the newspaper Education Week, a reputable source of news and analysis about schools and the education system, but we used the statement to examine the state of public schools in Maryland and in Baltimore City in particular. 

The Truthsquad was an interesting new way to engage the NewsTrust Baltimore community around a specific issue, and we consider this first local Truthsquad to have been a success.

 

Media partnerships

5530700693_b2db90fcbf_m NewsTrust Baltimore had a dozen media partners during this pilot, and they helped provide promotion of the project, as well as valuable advice and discussions about journalism in Baltimore.

These 12 partners ran the gamut of media in the Baltimore area, including newspapers, magazines, online sites, radio shows and stations, and blogs. They were Baltimore magazine, the Baltimore Brew, The Baltimore Sun, Bmore Media, Center Maryland, Citybizlist, City Paper, the Marc Steiner Show (WEAA-FM), Baltimore-area Patch sites, Urbanite magazine, the Welcome to Baltimore, Hon! blog, and WYPR-FM.

To solidify these partnerships, we reached out before launch to news organizations in the area and set up meetings. We found that many outlets were curious about this new site, and after launch, we had a second wave of interest from news organizations wanting to work with NewsTrust Baltimore. We signed on three additional partners during the six-month pilot and had conversations with several others. Check out our photos from the "making of NewsTrust Baltimore" to see how we engaged our partners and community.

One key goal of these partnerships was cross-promotion. We talked to news organizations about NewsTrust Baltimore’s ability for newsrooms to continue their conversations with readers and showcase their social media efforts, and we aimed to feature their work on the site. In return, we asked that a news outlet promote the project, and news organizations responded in different ways to the request.

For example, the Marc Steiner Show on WEAA-FM had us as guests on the show, along with a high school student, a college student and a charter school executive director, to discuss the different aspects of NewsTrust Baltimore and review a story on air. We were also interviewed on Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast on WYPR-FM. 

Many partners wrote articles about NewsTrust, including a feature from The Baltimore Sun’s Gus G. Sentementes. Citybizlist ran our news release and promoted NewsTrust Baltimore in its daily newsletter. City Paper published a post on The Nose blog about our objectives, and Bmore Media, Urbanite, Baltimore magazine, Baltimore Brew,  Towson Patch, and Welcome to Baltimore, Hon! all wrote editors’ notes about the partnerships. Center Maryland wrote an editor’s note and featured the partnership in its popular daily newsletter more than a dozen times over the course of the pilot.

Several partners also ran our widgets on their sites, and these were consistently some of our biggest traffic drivers. The Baltimore Sun included NewsTrust Baltimore widgets on its Maryland, Baltimore City, and Baltimore County pages, and The Baltimore Brew had our widgets on its home page. The Marc Steiner Show featured an expanded widget on its home page, and WYPR also included a "share this on NewsTrust" button on its website, as did the Baltimore Brew.

At our community awards ceremony and networking event on June 21, we recognized these media partners and the key staff that helped support NewsTrust Baltimore over the course of the pilot. Those staff members each received a certificate and a NewsTrust mug as a small token of our deep appreciation.  

 

Recommendations for future sites

Much of NewsTrust Baltimore was modeled after the national NewsTrust site, which provided excellent guidance and best practices for our work. Still, we found that there were some unique challenges and opportunities to operating a NewsTrust site geared toward local journalism, and we have some recommendations for future projects like this one.

One difference we noticed early on was the inclusion of stories. The Baltimore site served as a hub for local news, which meant we posted from a range of stories and sources, instead of serving only as a forum for the best local journalism. We encouraged our members to rate and review stories to help the better stories surface to the top of the page, but we included a large variety at the beginning of each day.

To engage our members, we found that a regular rotation of editorial projects appealing to different groups of people worked well. We recommend that future projects feature a diversity of news hunts, Truthsquads and interesting blog posts, while also leaving room to respond to breaking news and feedback from the community. 

The community has the opportunity to play a stronger role on the site, beyond reviews and ratings. On NewsTrust Baltimore, we found that staff members posted the large majority of stories, and this may have led members to feel they didn’t need to do so. Rewards for posting, as well as more a more intuitive user interface, could help. Community members could also be called upon to help find statements to fact-check using the Truthsquad tools, which would be a great way to ensure political diversity in examining these statements.

NewsTrust Baltimore could have benefited from stronger marketing. While there was a lot of buzz at launch, sustaining that attention and curiosity and converting visitors into members was a critical need. When we added sources to NewsTrust Baltimore, we emailed the writers and publishers to let them know they were included on the site and encouraged them to sign up. Had we had this promotion element in place early on in the pilot, we may have seen more traffic to the site.

For media partnerships, we recommend more specific "asks" of these organizations, as well as the implementation of different member levels. At each tier of partnership engagement, it would be helpful to identify clear benefits for news organizations that help promote the service in bigger ways. 

We also could have defined the news hunt partnerships more clearly throughout the pilot, and we only began doing this during the news hunt about youth. We asked that the guest host organization promote the news hunt on social media a number of times during the week, and we provided language to make this easier. We also asked that the organization include a blurb about the news hunt in its newsletter or on its website. Having pre-defined language, to make available to partners, would have helped the success of these hunts for good journalism.

 

Conclusion

Because we thought of and described NewsTrust Baltimore as an experiment, we were able to test new strategies and features on the site, and we were nimble enough to make rapid changes and new iterations based on member feedback. We feel the experiment was a success from an editorial and media perspective, and we’re grateful to our members and partners who helped make this happen. 

Stay tuned for our report on our educational activities and partnerships, which we’ll feature next week here on the blog.

 

Photo credits: Fabrice Florin

Share/Save/Bookmark

About NewsTrust.net

  • NewsTrust.net helps people find good journalism online. Our web review tools let you rate the news based on journalistic quality, not just popularity. Based on member ratings, we feature a daily selection of top rated news and opinions on our free site. We're non-profit, non-partisan, and committed to helping citizens make informed decisions about democracy. More »

Top Stories on NewsTrust