Craige McMillan writes in his Feb. 1 WorldNetDaily column:
Let’s go to the organization NewsGuard and see how it might work. My first observation is that the website, newsguardtech.com, is somewhat vague in explaining how it does what it does: “Our trained analysts, who are experienced journalists, research online news brands to help readers and viewers know which ones are trying to do legitimate journalism – and which are not.”
As I read that, NewsGuard is rating websites, not specific articles. They then assign a thumbs up or down based on … we don’t know how many articles, or which specific articles. It seems to me that if you were evaluating a specific article, you would need to review the journalist’s research sources, inspect – at the very least – the journalist’s notes regarding human source interviews and look at the series of revisions from rough draft to final story. Otherwise, how could you tell if the article was made up, or carefully researched and written?
I am very skeptical that NewsGuard is doing this, because I don’t see many journalists handing out their research, much less human sources, and exposing their writing skills to a stranger. I’m skeptical, as in “it ain’t gonna happen.”
To learn anything about News Guard’s human component, you have to add “about” to their main page. I’ll link to this page, but they may change it. Beyond management, they list 14 staff, and 16 contributors. They list three technical people.
I have not looked into the backgrounds of News Guard’s staff and contributors, but will leave that for a future article. NewsGuard itself could be a legitimate effort to apply human understanding and judgment to the news dissemination business. It could be algorithm-driven, and the staff and contributors merely deal with complaints. It could even be a modern outgrowth of Operation Mockingbird.
The thing that concerns me most at this point is NewsGuard’s attempt to shut down advertising to websites they have branded unreliable. Google and Facebook already have roughly 70 percent of the internet’s advertising. We need to find out about these two firms’ involvement in the News Guard project, or its principals. Another concern is ideology. It is a hallmark of the political left to shut down dissent. On its face, that is what News Guard is doing.
This is basically a gentler version of the anti-NewsGuard screed WND editor Joseph Farah wrote a while back. Both share the basic conceit that operations like NewsGuard are a liberal conspiracy to silence conservatives, though their real fear is having WND's history of shoddy journalism quantified (though we've been doing exactly that for years).
Contrary to McMillan's assertion, one does not need "the journalist’s notes regarding human source interviews and look at the series of revisions from rough draft to final story" for every single article a news operation publishes to determine whether "tell if the article was made up, or carefully researched and written." The final article itself is proof enough and can be easily analyzed.
Take, for instance, the story we just highlighted about WND freaking out over meditationin schools as some government-Buddhist plot. We know the article was not "carefully researched" because reporter Bob Unruh quoted only the right-wing American Center for Law and Justice, whose legal action Unruh's article was promoting, and makes no attempt to contact any school or government official involved in the story. It's a highly biased article, and one does not need to look at all rough drafts of it to conclude otherwise (though it might be entertaining in this case to see if the article was even more biased in earlier drafts).
NewsGuard must be on to something it WND is getting this nervous about it.