Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Transparency and credibility

Rather than focusing on bias, let's try to crack this nut: How do we apply the spirit and capacity of modern technology to improve the information we gather, publish and consume?

It seems to me that one solution could involve a continually updated credibility score that applies to reporters and sources. This idea got zero traction when I trotted it out in the late 1990s, probably because of the costs associated with creating such a system in-house.

But a hyperlinked credibility score, based on factual tests and administered by something like the Wikimedia Foundation, harnesses the strengths of both the "traditional" media and the grassroots/distributed media. One is great for collecting information and comes with a built-in gatekeepers; the other has vast knowledge and unmatchable manpower.

Link the blogosphere to some dbase that compiles and computes the factual track record of public figures, spokespeople, reporters and commentators and you've got an powerful, instant tool for evaluating the credibility of developing stories.

Obviously, such a system would improve over time, and the credibility of some claims ("Saddam has WMDs, I swear to Gawd") would have to wait for verification. This scoring system would therefore be dynamic, and old claims could come back to haunt the person who made them.

Such an approach could be endlessly transparent, since anyone who wanted to know more about the credibility of a source would have an easily clickable history to examine.

The belief that "citizen journalists" will be able to consistently outperform traditional journalists in news gathering, news judgment and ethics overlooks all sorts of practical, logistical roadblocks (as WikiNews appears to be discovering). Better to give group each a role that supports the other.

We've already got more information than we can handle. The battleground is real-time epistomology: How do we know what we know? Given the right scoring system, the answer will be right in front of us.

It's the credibility, stupid.