When Mike LaBonte spoke to our journalism class about the news review site NewsTrust.net (think a more detailed, news-oriented Digg with multiple assessments), he spoke of the difficulty of Newstrust reviews becoming politicized. Often times, says LaBonte, reviewers have trouble separating their beliefs from thoroughness of what is being covered; reviews tend to be affected by whether the review agrees with the point of view of the article or not. When posting my news stories to Newstrust under my account , I immediately understood what he was talking about. For instance, when reviewing a story I posted about a new ocean model which explores how sea level rise could vary regionally, it became clear how difficult it would be to achieve fair reviews. In all likelihood, readers who generally accept climate science would probably find the article in-depth and well cited. However, a reader who rejects climate science would likely mark down the article for things like relying on the IPCC’s assumptions.
In my opinion, unfortunately, NewsTrust falls into the all-too-common category that traps many online communities. It is an online forum centered around a good idea, but one which lacks the critical mass to make it the meaningful organization it intends to be. A quick online analytics search shows that Newstrust only has 1,870 visitors a day and about 21,000 unique users in the US. So in a self-perpetuating cycle, Newstrust doesn’t have the membership to make joining attractive, and because joining isn’t attractive membership doesn’t grow. The relatively high attention span that Newstrust reviews requires also raises the challenge of widening acceptance. I don’t have a lot of faith that internet users are likely to do much more than a “like/dislike” system. Google will have enough on their hands with their +1 button. One partial solution might be backend analytics which don’t require additional user input, but measure things like seconds spent on an article, bounce rate, or if a user navigated to related articles. Youtube has a powerful analytics program that pulls similar information from video viewership which can tell a lot about whether a viewer likes or dislikes what they are viewing.
However, 20,000 is a lot of people. Maybe NewsTrust doesn’t need to become a goliath of news reviewing. I have been a part of forum communities that are much smaller than NewsTrust, yet are extremely rich, well connected, and rewarding for those involved. After all, a small-town newspaper isn’t at fault for not having millions of readers nationwide; it’s a publication for a specific audience. Maybe Newstrust is a little internet Garden of Eden for online news junkies who have an attention span which allows for more than just pressing a “like” button.
As an aside, I was surprised to see that India and Nigeria make up 15.2% and 14% of NewsTrust’s users, according to the analytics search. Maybe Mike LaBonte could explain why.