Outlet Spotlight: NewsGuard
One in five news sites that NewsGuard rated in Australia received untrustworthy scores
NewsGuard is a nonpartisan, apolitical journalism tool that rates the credibility of news and information websites and tracks misinformation online. Founded in 2018 by Gordon Crovitz - former Publisher of The Wall Street Journal - in partnership with journalist Steven Brill, it had an original focus on North America, but has since expanded into key European markets, and has just recently launched in Australia and New Zealand.
As part of their entry into the market, the company undertook an audit of major Australian news websites. Within Australia, 19% of sites assessed did not receive a trustworthy score, putting us at a higher percentage of engagement with unreliable news than the UK (15%) and Canada (4%), but much lower than the U.S (46%).
The idea behind NewsGuard grew out of a problem that journalists all over the world were having. “It has become impossible for news consumers online to tell a reliable source from a misinformation source,” says Gordon. They wanted to focus less on debunking specific instances of misinformation, and more on “pre-bunking” the websites that were sharing. This is delivered in the form of a “nutrition label”, which summarises that website's trustworthiness.
To guard against bias, the company maintains a strict, apolitical stance, with all outlets being judged against nine ideologically neutral criteria, such as ‘Does the website repeatedly publish content that has been found to be false?’ or ‘Does the website clearly label advertising and reveal who is in charge, highlighting conflicts of interest?’. It’s an approach that has seen both high and low scores awarded to outlets from across the political spectrum. “People in the United States have attacked us from the right and the left,” says Steven, who in addition to his work as a journalist, is also a published author and a Founder of The American Lawyer Magazine.
Transparency is a crucial aspect of this product. The details and background information on the individuals making those judgements are supplied to provide a strong degree of accountability. Another core part of their process is being the first to admit when they have made a mistake. “If we are wrong, we will say we are wrong,” says Steven.
One of the key areas of focus for NewsGuard is in the advertising industry. They found that advertisers were largely unaware of the locations of their ads and were unwittingly aligning themselves with unreliable news sources. “An enormous number of websites that received low ratings were full of advertisements from reliable organisations,” says Steven. “CEOs of major companies would be mortified to see their ads on these sites.”
NewsGuard and Comscore have estimated that approximately US$2.6 billion a year is spent on advertising that unintentionally supports misinformation sites. As part of the launch into Australia and New Zealand, local advertisers will be able to licence NewsGuard’s brand-safety tools to ensure their advertising does not appear on unreliable news sites.
While still in the early stages of release, the team behind NewsGuard has found that the feedback from the media industry has been overwhelmingly positive. “Public libraries had been granted the opportunity to use the tool prior to the launch,” says Virginia Padovese, Managing Editor and VP for Partnerships. ”The data has proven incredibly helpful to them.” As an overseas-based company, it was also important to them to consult widely to understand the particularities of Australian and New Zealand journalism. “We are very intentional when we launch in a new place”, says Veena McCoole, Head of Communications and Marketing. “We are sensitive about not coming at this from an international office and bringing our nuances with us.”
NewsGuard is a subscription product that can be used both as a browser app or through their website.