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This year’s Newsfoo felt to me rather different from the 2010 edition. There seemed to be less discussion of how to sustain or resource news, or about the contexts of news consumption, and more about how to deal with some of the cognitive, knowledge-management and even ethical issues of news journalism. This post is on initiatives/tools for fact-checking and knowledge management in the news [Update: a more current list is here.]

Knowledge management, fact-checking in news organisations

After last year’s Newsfoo, I pondered whether “a key emerging role for news media and journalists might lie in more systematically tracking and unpacking the nature and web of connections, instances and influences that flow to and through and from events” – Bruno Latour’s Macospol is one example of how this might be done. Some human rights organisations are using new tools to collect and mine data, build and visualise patterns, and draw conclusions and present evidence (e.g. B’Tselem’s pretty jaw-dropping forensic collaboration with Situ Studio and Goldsmiths). What kinds of tools and methods are news organisations using to conduct this kind of work – establishing facts, establishing connections, and building a web of evidence that helps people decide what is happening around them?

Three Newsfoo discussions in particular prompted this post (alongside Baratunde‘s reminder to us all that The Onion has fact-checkers):
– Jonathan Stray asked first how news organisations could implement better knowledge management as they gather and process information – in a sense, a “context layer” for the web. As one person put it in another discussion, “the process of journalism is very lossy”, in that a lot of labour-intensive, useful information gathered in the process of doing journalism never gets used, or stored and made available to others to search or build on.
– Dan Schultz and Sasha Costanza-Chock talked about how to provide a “truth and credibility layer” for news consumers when they interact with journalism: how do you know if a statement reported online is true or not?
– a range of participants came together for a session specifically on fact-checking, looking in part of how Politifact works, and other initiatives (like this) enabling quite granular analysis of political and business discourse and reporting.

Also, a week before Newsfoo, Craig Newmark had posted on how he’s extremely dissatisfied with the state of fact-checking [UPDATE: and a new post from Craig Newmark at Nieman Lab continues to argue that fact-checking and -challenging is a critical part of how news organisations earn, retain and grow trust]. And a week ago, Ethan Zuckerman wrote helpfully about Morningside Analytics’ work on the US online fact-checking ecosystem, and Lucas Graves’ work on the landscape of fact-checking in the US. There’s a lot of discussion about the state of fact-checking generally at the moment, so I won’t retread the discussions had in these sessions at Newsfoo (not least since there was a fair amount of FrieNDA.)

So read on for a list of resources mentioned in these Newsfoo sessions, along with some others I’ve added to round things out a bit – I hope it’s of use. Most of these are US/UK only – who’s doing this in other parts of the world, in other languages? Thoughts? Additions? Let me know through the comments box!

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I’m wearing my News Foo t-shirt in honour of the chain of conversations that has led to my being quoted in Tom Standage’s excellent Special Report in this week’s Economist, on the future of news. (Update: And in additional News Foo connections, Meg Pickard kindly extended an invitation to give a brown bag talk at The Guardian this Wednesday lunchtime – very excited about this.)

The conversations at Newsfoo afforded both the chance to delve deeper into topics and ideas with very sharp-minded people, and to reflect a little bit on a meta level on what all this ceaseless inquiry and activity means.  Listening in particular to discussions about sustainability, business models and revenue generation, it made me think of Sir Isaac Newton.

Most of us think of Newton as a mathematician, a physicist, an astronomer, striking out into new territories of shared, incremental, testable knowledge, whereas Newton spent the greater part of his time on studying and writing about the Bible (.doc), alchemy, and the occult – elite, hidden, controversial (as a Christian, he is widely held to have been an Arian).  He studied, for example, alchemical motifs like the Greene Lyon, and helped to sponsor an expedition in search of dragons in the Swiss Alps.  Gravitation was, in a way, a side-project – something he came up with in his 20% time.

Some of the discussions (in many, many settings – not specifically at Newsfoo) about how to pay for journalism feel to me at times more akin to a theological, doctrinal conversation about waning belief-systems than one intent on discovering the intrinsic natural forces that surround and govern our work.  That’s undoubtedly more due to my own limitations than the problems of the conversation, but I think it’s worth asking those wiser than I am:

What’s our Greene Lyon? And what’s the 20% time project that becomes gravity?

This rather lengthy post was my first maladroit assay, yesterday.