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Checkdesk: how can newsrooms get closer to the truth, faster?

Meedan Director of Design Chris Blow reports from Zanzibar Last week, we were at the Africa News Innovation Challenge's #TechCamp Zanzibar conference describing our latest project, Checkdesk, a tool for newsrooms. Checkdesk is designed for three activities: 1) collaborative bookmarking to bring media into the newsroom; 2) collaborative fact-checking that builds a relationship with readers; and 3) liveblogging which contextualises social media rapidly changing situations.

Our question is: how can newsrooms get closer to the truth, faster? Our goal is to improve the relationship between journalists and readers and ultimately strengthen civil society. Our strategy is to help newsrooms work more collaboratively and transparently with their audience during the fact-checking process.

Internally we have a simple rule: "keep journalists from looking stupid" — this means we want to avoid retractions and publishing falsehoods.

Reputation and trust are the critical issues at hand: The pursuit of the truth is at the core of journalistic practice for both traditional and new media.

We want to strengthen the news ecosystem with strong and trustworthy news outlets but we recognize that these outlets have limited resources and limited time.

We want to design for increasingly rigourous fact-checking, especially in dynamic political contexts fueled by social media.

In the United States, "fact-checking" often just means analysing political statements. For example, factcheck.org and politifact.com review politicians statements for inaccuracies. But with regard to social media, fact-checking can be much more complex. As pioneered by groups like Storyful, the social media fact-checking world is a much more diverse space which can require a great deal of sophistication to understand the true nature of a video or image.

For example, our partners in Cairo have seen major political protests happening, and they are working largely with reports directly from citizens on the ground. We want to know, is this video actually from today's protest? Are we certain that this material is from the correct location? Do any landmarks, dialects, weather patterns, or other clues reveal that this may be false material? What is the motivation of the source that posted this material to the web, and do they have any history on record?

In this context there are a few key functions of the tool we are developing:

1) Checkdesk helps the newsroom solicit social media with a bookmarking tool. When a journalist or reader finds relevant material on the web, they can easily bring this into their Checkdesk "media pool" — much like the BBC User Generated Content Hub. One click and a video can be submitted to the newsroom. This collaborative bookmarking aspect allows anyone to easily put content into the beginning of the news team's workflow.

2) Checkdesk then facilitates collaborative review workflow. Checkdesk encourages transparency in this process, to trust with readers. A core goal of Checkdesk is to improve the relationship between the readers and the journalists in order to facilitate a more critical dialogue about social media. Like the changelog of open source software, Checkdesk shows the history of scrutiny applied to each video, tweet and image. This is a publicly visible history of review on each media item. If something has been under suspicion of falsification, this is evident. If there has been detailed process of fact-checking, this is also evident. If something has not been reviewed at all, this is again obvious — these details are not opaque to the reader. Each status, "unknown" "in review" or "verified" is visible to the reader as controlled by the journalists.

3) Lastly the newsrooms can publish this content in a contextual stream of updates — a liveblog. Using the media that has been submitted by the readers, and fact-checked with their collaboration, each liveblog update provides context which is critical for understanding how the material should be understood. In the liveblog, the fact-checking status on each item remains clear.

Comments on this post

2012-12-11 10:26:02 -0800
CheckDesk sounds very useful, where can we get it?
2012-12-12 12:27:59 -0800
Checkdesk is still in development, hopefully an update to come on that front on the blog later this week - we'll keep you updated! Enjoyed the Storyful hangout on Monday :)
2012-12-20 21:39:39 -0800
Hi Paul, As Tom said, it's not live to the public yet but I wanted to add that it is open source, you can follow along on github: https://github.com/meedan/meedan-checkdesk and if you're ambitious you could setup your own private instance at any time. Cheers
2012-12-20 23:50:29 -0800
Ah excellent, thanks Chris, I'll give the source code a go.