Where Did All the Good Journalism Go?

It's good news, bad news, old news time again, that time of the year when such hoary and perennial journalistic traditions as year-end retrospectives, 'Best of,' 'Worst of,' and 'Top Ten' lists and 'Person of the Year' selections all proliferate.

Unfortunately, with all the bad news, phony news, faux news and Fox News out there, it's all too easy to create a Top Ten Worst Journalism list-maybe even a Top Thousand! But in the spirit of the season, let's try to be a bit more positive, shall we? In this age of media scams and scandals, of paid opinion and information warfare, of partisan power plays and the corrupt nexus of Big Media and Big Politics, how and where can we find quality news and information we can trust?

Enter NewsTrust.net, a new, not-for-profit social news network dedicated to helping citizens find and share quality news and information online. Guess what? It turns out that there's lots of good journalism being practiced out there -- in the much-maligned mainstream media, in the independent sector, on the air, in print and even (dare I say it?) right here in the blogosphere. It's just that sometimes -- particularly when facing the daily media tsunami-good news can seem awfully hard to find.

For the past two years, I've been volunteering as NewsTrust's Editorial Director. This fledgling social news site offers citizens an integrated online service, which includes a quality news filter, media literacy tools and -- most importantly -- a trust network. One major feature is its daily feed of quality news and opinions drawn from hundreds of sources, submitted and then rated by community reviewers. NewsTrust members are encouraged to check their personal opinions at the door and instead judge the news based on quality, and not simply popularity. (One observer dubbed NewsTrust "Digg for Grownups.") The NewsTrust web review tools enable its members to evaluate fairness, evidence, sourcing and other core journalistic principles. The service also rates its own reviewers and validates their expertise, to ensure the reliability of its quality ratings. Given that questions of trust, quality, accountability and verification are among the most important issues facing journalism today -- and given the further fact that a truly functioning democracy requires an informed citizenry -- finding real answers to these media-and-democracy questions is crucial to helping us all make more informed decisions about our lives and governments -- and thus to our very future as a democratic society.

The NewsTrust experiment is still in beta form and no one -- particularly its visionary founder Fabrice Florin -- claims the approach has been perfected. "I'd say it shows great promise, but we still have a ways to go," says Florin, who is rightly concerned about over-hyping a service that is still in its infancy, "But it could become one of the best systems out there for filtering the news based on quality -- as well as for increasing our own media literacy." The good news is that the "social news network" concept does seem to be working. One indication can be found by examining NewTrust's own 'Best Journalism of 2007' lists, featuring both the 'Top 10 News Stories' and 'Top 10 Opinions' of 2007.

Each assessment, based solely on ratings from NewsTrust members, identifies a wide range of quality journalism produced in the last year by a diverse set of news organizations, ranging from Factcheck.org, the Christian Science Monitor and Salon to National Public Radio, Vanity Fair and Harper's, and from such industry stalwarts as the New York Times, Washington Post and New Yorker magazine to more obscure media makers like TCS Daily, Armed Forces Journal, and Robert Parry's Consortium News.

These examples of excellence cover an equally wide-range of topics, including:

    The use of torture in America's ongoing 'War on Terror;'

    Israel's 'Arab problem;'

    The threat of war with Iran;

    The 'failure in generalship' in Iraq;

    Solutions to the 'Mexican Immigration Problem;'

    'Fascist America,' in 10 easy steps;

And of course, several pieces that examine the failures of the media itself, such as:

    The New York Times' 'sloppy hit piece on Gore;'

    The New York Times' return to pre-Iraq-war 'journalism;'


    A Bill Moyers documentary on 'our failed and barren press.'

So even when seeking the 'best news' of 2007, it turns out that the news about the news media itself isn't so good after all ... But at least some of it is, and it's important that we take time to recognize that fact, and work hard to expand it, so that the odds will increase that we all can find better news and information in the coming presidential election year -- clearly a crucial one both for our own country and the world as a whole.

And always remember -- if you don't like the news, go out and rate some of your own, and encourage others to do so as well! After all, who you gonna trust -- the media, or us?

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