Give Me Transparency or Give Me Death

David Weinberger once declared on his blog Joho that “Transparency is the new objectivity.”

While this is something many journalism professors and professionals in the field would balk at, it’s practically a fact of life for our generation. We don’t even need to be told. We grew up on the internet (though I can still wax nostalgic that the kids these days don’t know what it was like to dial-up to AOL and wait 10 minutes to even get email). We demanded accuracy first and foremost, despite anyone’s opinion. Along with being the great equalizer, the internet is the perfect fact-checking tool and therefore lies and rumors don’t get very far these days. Like Weinberger says, “Transparency prospers in a linked medium, for you can literally see the connections between the final draft’s claims and the ideas that informed it.”

ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative journalism startup, is taking advantage of this linked media with its new feature “Explore Sources”. Readers will now be able to turn on the feature and see sources as uploaded to Document Cloud. Sources will appear as highlighted, embedded annotations in articles, as the first test of the feature in Marshall Allen’s article “Why can’t Linda Carswell get her husband’s heart back?”. It’s a huge step for transparency in new media and may even set the bar for other internet publications in the future. If ProPublica can do it, other publications will just appear lazy by not using this tool. This feature allows readers to see every step of the journalistic process and trace every fact back to its origin.

an example of "Explore Sources" from ProPublica

I first heard about ProPublica’s new feature on the blog the Future Journalism Project, a great tumblr I found for new media news. The article goes on to explain how the reporter would use an app to add in sources as he/she wrote the piece.

 This is an interesting contrast to a movie we just watched in News Editing class, Shattered Glass, based on the Stephen Glass story. Stephen Glass was caught cooking dozens of articles over the span of his young career. We watched it with our jaws on the floor. A tech beat employee at Forbes was the first to notice the flaws in Glass’ articles and used the internet to bring him down. It was also an interesting case because Glass had a working knowledge of the internet too, and even created a fake website to look like one of his falsified sources. Nowadays, Glass wouldn’t be able to fake even ONE source in an article with modern fact checking. Even rags like The Ithacan and Buzzsaw have higher standards 😉

With tools like “Explore Sources” cropping up, I wonder if other publications will follow suit or create their own methods. It seems especially necessary for investigative pieces and articles that take months to write. I wonder how long it will be until we are learning how to manage similar interactive bibliographies for our own pieces.

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