This is the first blog entry of our project to this Uutisraivaaja blog and at the same time the first blog entry I myself have ever written. Now as it has been revealed I’m a bit of a social media luddite, or more accurately a bit of a backwater simpleton, maybe you’ll be more sympathetic to my post. And to the sad puns therein.
As many other competitors, we also have changed the name of our project/product. In the original entry it was called Faktat oikein (Get your facts right), which was straightforward but perhaps a little pedestrian. Now were called quite simply Totuus ja valhe (Truth and lie), which is maybe somewhat pompous, but since it has a nice ring to it (in Finnish at any rate) even has a witty intertextual reference to the late singer-songwriter Vladimir Vysotski, we’re gonna go with it.
So what is it? As described in the original competition form, we’re building a web service, which checks the facts represented in the media or other public texts – for example claims made by politicians, business tycoons, consultants, parties, whoever. This is achieved by combining the efforts of professional journalists who run the site and citizen journalists and crowdsourcing. Yes, there are other factchecking websites out there, especially in the US, but our project has some unique features:
First, as said, it combines the efforts of the citizen journalists and professional journalists. When a statement is posted in the website for fact-checking, everyone can contribute. You, me, the proverbial man in the street, everyone has their say – if they have something useful to say. Here’s the catch: Every statement has to have a source, a reference, which supports it. This is no free-for-all, no-you-are-stupid-forum. Of course, the final verdict is combined by the professional team, but in a totally transparent way that can also be disputed.
Second, when the verdict is reached, the results are moved into a structured database, which is open to all. People can browse results, draw comparisons, make charts etc. It becomes a very valuable tool and resource, a source of new news. Third, because every factchecking statement must be accompanied by a reference, this database also works as a reference library for different subjects, for example the economy crisis, elections etc.
How’s that gonna fly, if I may ask? We realize that the world of internet startups is more darwinian environment than a roomful of stockbrokers with one working phone line, but still we think that we may succeed in building a service that is self-sufficient and capable of growth. The word is co-operative. Our goal is to establish a network, in which the news media give the site financial support and in return they have an access to our valuable database of information and a source of news. For example, many of the classical-style news agencies in Europe and even in the US are basically cooperatives, so the idea is not new, but the application is.
What reasons do they have to support us? Lots. We give them added value in many ways: factchecking enhances the value of the news, creates more web traffic, strengthens the readership, gives the news more visibility in the social media and gives them more credibility.
The foundation gave you money, didn’t they? So what’ve you been doing? Two things mainly. The first priority has been to build the actual site and its infrastructure. Since most of the development team are as programming-savvy as I, i.e. are not, we have contracted an internet company based in Tampere to do the dirty work. The very much beta version of the system is currently being tested internally. It may not yet have the looks, but I’m no beauty pageant character either.
The second first priority has been to start gathering the said network. Currently things are going very well. We are cooperating with the journalism schools in the universities of Tampere and Jyväskylä, in order to produce a couple of master’s thesis (pro gradu) -level studies concerning the factchecking, its practices and possibilities. These will help us to focus our project to suit the needs of the field. Hopefully when the academic year starts, our cooperation proposal will attract some smart students who are interested in this.
We have also already reached a tentative agreement with one Finnish print & web media to start cooperating with our project during the coming autumn, when we aim to start the pilot stage. And in August we’re gonna meet representatives of one large media house with the same goal in mind. And on top of all that, we have found a reliable company of experienced freelance journalists to run the site’s professional side. So the network is already pretty strong.
And the video, sir? Ah yes, the video. The last couple of days we have been engaged in hectic activity vis-a-vis the final competition entry and the video pitch. But since all good directors seem to be on vacation, busy with other productions or deceased, we’re relying on the good old DIY/America’s Funniest Home Videos variety. We’re still battling with the final format, though; so far some of the rejected proposals have been Alvin & the Chipmunks homage, the Lynchian Muppet Show and the Finnish all-time classic, Awkward Jolly Speech at the Wedding.
In other words, you have been warned.
On behalf of the Totuus ja Valhe project,