American Lawyer and Brill's Content founder Steve Brill "is close to completing a $6 million round of funding" for News Guard, "a startup that rates news content, so consumers finding news via search or social media will have a better idea of whether it's trustworthy," MediaPost reports. Former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz is to be co-CEO, according to the article, which says they plan to hire "a team of 40 to 60 journalists" to "rate online content."
Poor quality news is surely a problem, technology and the profit motive are surely part of the solution, and I have a lot of respect for Crovitz, so the whole thing has a certain amount of promise. I think they'll have an easier time identifying and screening out the sort of "fake news" that comes from genuinely made-up sites than they will filtering out the "fake news" that appears in places like the New York Times and the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal, places that appear prestigious to a lot of people who don't know any better, and that employ a lot of famous journalists and some excellent ones, but that nonetheless publish news that turns out to be seriously misleading or wrong.
To take just one example, how would this "team of 40 to 60 journalists" have, in real time, rated the credibility of the story published on the front page of the New York Times on November 6, 2016, by Jonathan Martin? The online headline was "Hillary Clinton Appears To Gain Late Momentum on Surge of Hispanic Voters." It read in part:
PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. — Hispanic voters in key states surged to cast their ballots in the final days of early voting this weekend, a demonstration of political power that lifted Hillary Clinton's presidential hopes and threatened to block Donald J. Trump's path to the White House....Democrats continued to hold the upper hand, thanks in part to the changing nature of the electorate in the most crucial states: Florida and a cluster of states in the South and the West....
the evidence from polling and the early voting turnout seemed to indicate he was facing the possibility of sweeping losses in states with sizable Hispanic populations, most likely affected by the racially tinged language he has used since beginning his campaign over 16 months ago, when he claimed the ranks of Mexican migrants were filled with rapists and drug dealers.
"The story of this election may be the mobilization of the Hispanic vote," said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an anti-Trump Republican who has pleaded with his party to do more to win over Latinos....
it was not just Florida where Hispanics were poised to send a powerful message....
Mrs. Clinton can afford to lose Ohio and Iowa and even Michigan and still easily amass the 270 electoral votes needed for victory if she is able to secure the Southern and Western states that have tilted away from Republicans as they lost ground with nonwhites over the past decade: Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, as well as New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.
And while she may not win every one of these diverse states, capturing most of them would be enough to deny Mr. Trump any path to the White House.
"You can credit him for that," said Karl Rove, the Republican strategist. "Not her."
Or, to take another example, how would the team have journalists have rated these two bearish columns written in 2000 by Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times about Amazon stock? They suggested that analysts bullish about the stock just wanted investment banking business, and that the stock wasn't a bargain even at $15 a share (it's now at about $1,127. If you had ignored her advice at the time and bought $10,000 worth of the stock then, it would now be worth about $725,000).
Or how would the NewsGuard team have rated at the time these three pieces by David Leonhardt of the New York Times?: "Stocks Are Still Expensive" (August 4, 2011); "Time To Worry About Stock Market Bubbles" (May 6, 2014) ("The evidence, as I read it, suggests that stock prices are now high...returns in coming years will be modest at best."); "Part of the Problem: Stocks Are Expensive" (August 25, 2015) "stock prices today remain historically expensive, even after the declines of recent weeks." The market has soared since each of those three articles appeared.
If someone could figure out a way to "guard" against those sorts of stories it would have a value of even more than $6 million. It's not such an easy proposition to execute on, however. The best guard is probably healthy reader skepticism applied to all stories in all outlets.