The Authenticity Contest

Knight News Challenge solicits authenticity-related projects

Accuracy is hot stuff these days, let me tell you.

On Wednesday, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times dedicated a column to the correction of a rumor, and recent weeks have seen viral corrections and apologies, surveys of online corrections and new accuracy-related products come to market.

But perhaps the best development this year came when the Knight News Challenge contest announced that “authenticity” would be one of the four new categories created for this year’s edition. The other three are mobile, community, and sustainability. The deadline for applications is December 1.

This is an amazing opportunity for accuracy and credibility oriented projects to receive funding and support. By this time next year, there could be several new initiatives in this area up and running, which is an exciting thought. (As managing editor of PBS MediaShift, I help run the sister site MediaShift Idea Lab, which is where the News Challenge winners blog. So while I don’t work for the Knight Foundation, I have the great fortune of getting to work with winners of this contest.)

The announcement of the category format was accompanied by this description of authenticity:

We went back and forth on how to describe this: trust, reputation, integrity and credibility were other terms we considered. We’re hoping to identify promising ideas for helping citizens negotiate our oft-chaotic media world. How can we help news users to better evaluate the validity and trustworthiness of news and information? How can we better filter and assess the credibility of what we read and watch? We were motivated to choose the topic by a sense that there’s a lot of energy around the topic—Craig Newmark, for one, has been thinking out loud on these issues.

In the hope of wringing some additional information out of the Knight folks, I spoke with John Bracken, the foundation’s director of digital media.

“I think questions of reputation and reliability and accuracy have been central to the discussion about future of news and news online,” he told me. “What I’ve seen over the last year and in the past year is a building critical mass of enthusiasm and momentum in the developer community around building tools to address these things.”

If authenticity seems like a pretty open (and perhaps vague) category, well, that’s the idea.

“We’ve kept it pretty general and open,” Bracken said. “We want to get as many ideas and learn as much as we can.”

That hopefully means applicants will interpret authenticity in different ways, which will lead to a surprising level of variety within the confines of the category.

“I’ve heard people talk about data authenticity and heard people talk about social networking authenticity,” Bracken said. “Credibility is another term that fits within the space.”

In terms of the process, Bracken said there are separate evaluators for each category, though people such as himself will look at all applications. There is no set dollar amount for each category, nor is there a minimum or maximum number of winners for each category. So could an entire category go without a winning grant?

“It’s conceivable but highly unlikely,” Bracken said.

Knight has already awarded grants in the area of authenticity. hNews (which I wrote about here) and MediaBugs (which I’ve written about and am an unpaid advisor to) are two previous winners that fit into the category. The creation of the category signals that Knight—and the industry/profession in general—views this as an increasingly important area, not to mention one that’s ripe for innovation.

“In and around the news industry there is a need for the ability to be able to discern more information about who is speaking and imbue degrees of reliability around what they’re speaking about,” Bracken says. “Something we all deal with in the course of our everyday lives is determining who is speaking, how much I rely on them … and how can I understand who they are and where they’re coming from.”

This is where I tried to bore in and see if my admittedly biased perception about the momentum for the authenticity category is going to translate into applications and, one would hope, grants. I wondered if Bracken had a sense of which categories are generating the most interest and discussion at this point.

“Just based on conversations I’m having, the categories that people seem to have the most interest in are mobile and around community—but that could just be the conversations I’m having this week,” he said.

So here’s my pitch for anyone who wants to take part in the contest—or who wants to win: As hot as authenticity may seem to me, it’s possibly not as hot overall as mobile or community or sustainability. So this may be the category for you to stand out if you have a passion for the topic.

I tried to get Bracken to endorse that view, but he’s well ensconced in his role as impartial arbiter.

“I think that can be your pitch,” he told me, laughing. “People should apply to the category that most fits their idea. I’m excited about all four [categories].

“Don’t make me choose,” he said.

Correction of the Week

“On May 24, 2010, we published an article headed ‘Sophie Dahl: I’m no weight watcher’ containing personal comments that we said had been taken from Sophie Dahl’s Twitter page. We now accept that Sophie Dahl does not have an active Twitter page and the comments were invented by hoaxers. The page has now been removed from circulation. We are happy to make this clear and apologise to Sophie Dahl for any distress and embarrassment our article has caused.” - Daily Express

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Craig Silverman is the editor of and the author of Regret The Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech. He is also the editorial director of and a columnist for the Toronto Star. Tags: , , , ,