11 December 2008

Shred my cred

I had a story published in a national paper today. As usual, I was chuffed to see my byline and popped out to the shop to buy a copy (I usually read the press online). On my return, I sifted through my emails and saw I had a Google Alert to say I'd been listed on NewsCred. I'd never heard of NewsCred before so naturally I toddled over there to have a look. It's a Web 2.0 site, still in beta, that picks up stories from all the main international newspapers and lets site members rate them. So far, so good.

Except that the ranking system is based on people voting one of two ways: Credit means you rate the story as credible and of good quality; Discredit means you consider it to be biased and factually inaccurate.

I saw that 8 people had already voted on my story, two of whom had chosen to discredit it. That would have been fair enough had I been writing a straight news story but in this case my feature was about a product, so of course there was going to be some bias in it - it's virtually impossible to appraise something and not come down on one side of it or the other. You look at the product from as many angles and viewpoints as possible, test it as much as you can and draw a conclusion. You like it, or you don't. Or you maybe say it has some good points but flag up the minuses while doing so.

Reviewing has been around since newspapers were invented. It doesn't matter what's being reviewed - opera, exhibitions, pop groups, restaurants or products of some sort. At some point the reviewer is going to bless it with a yay or a nay. It therefore seems ridiculous that NewsCred allows its users to "discredit" a story it's scooped up that is not hard news but a review of something because whichever way you slice, there will be bias in there.

In my favour, the product I wrote about was not thrust on me by some fawning PR desperate for some coverage. I stumbled across a mention of the product, was intrigued enough to look up the maker's website, liked what I saw, picked up the phone and asked nicely if I could have a sample and then started pitching once I'd tried it out and felt it deserved some coverage. I actually could find almost nothing bad to say about this particular product despite putting it through its paces.

So - track me down on on NewsCred and shoot me for writing a feature based on a product review.

What do you all think? Should NewsCred be able to discredit review features? Might it besmirch a journalist's otherwise good name and credibility for writing reviews?

6 comments:

TM said...

Interesting...I've seen the site before, and I'm a bit more bullish on the concept than you are. However, I think there is an important feature missing: the ability (perhaps requirement) for the voter to explain the reason for the discredit. This will prevent aimless downvoting and might even help the journalist understand his/her audience. Thoughts?

wordsmith_for_hire said...

I'm not disagreeing with the concept per se - I can see it has its merits in terms of how credible a reporter is. Not all journalists are reports, though. I'm not and never have been. I think you are right about lack of a requirement to explain the reason behind a discredit vote. It would give NewsCred more credit itself. As a journalist, I certainly like to have feedback from readers. I had quite a lot yesterday after my story appeared but it would be interesting to see why NewsCred users choose to discredit a story.

Shafqat said...

Hi there - Shafqat from NewsCred here. I absolutely agree with both of you about the need to explain why a user discredits an article/journalist/source. In fact, we're already working on that feature. Apart from giving each vote more weight and 'credibility', we think it's a good feedback loop for the journalist as well (in line with previous comments).

Also, we agree that certain pieces of news are more appropriate for rating than others. As an example, an opinion piece is by definition 'opinion'! As such, we don't expect every piece of news to be rated. However, there may be cases where it is in the public interest to see discredits if there is an opinion piece based on factual inaccuracies or hidden conflicts of interest. It probably doesn't happen all the time, but we do want to give readers a voice in the news process. It's clear that the need for such a platform is more obvious in certain cases.

Thanks for the interesting discussion.

Cheers,
Shafqat

wordsmith_for_hire said...

Shafqat, thanks for adding your voice. It's good to hear NewsCred is working on trying to resolve this issue.

Another issue that needs to be taken into account is churnalism - so many papers today recycle press releases as "news", for various reasons (lack of funds to send reporters out to get real stories, laziness on the part of the hack... ) I'd like to see NewsCred find a way to deal with that too, if possible. Likewise spoiling, where a paper just steals its rival's splash.

BenefitScroungingScum said...

I had never heard of Newscred before, but I did see your article and I thought it was excellent. The product looks very promising though I'm not sure I wouldn't just lose one!
Hope all is well with you? Bendy Girl

wordsmith_for_hire said...

Hey, BG, good to hear from you!

I did actually manage to lose the product while testing it, but fortunately it turned up really quickly and was returned to me, to my immense relief. It's certainly the best product yet I've seen for the purpose. I think the risk of losing it is actually the only real drawback and I'm still trying to figure out how to keep it secure.