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Amid some media fearmongering around the coronavirus, a company that exposes shonky news websites in the US will begin analysing Australian sites from around July.
NewsGuard was formed in 2018 by co-chief executives Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz. Mr Brill is founder of Court TV and several publications on law and journalism. Mr Crovitz is a former publisher and opinion columnist at The Wall Street Journal.
In an interview with The Australian, Mr Brill said he regarded himself as more to the left of politics, while Mr Crovitz was more conservative. It’s a combination they hope customers appreciate.
The company offers a subscription service and a browser plug-in icon that displays in green or red on news websites to signify whether they are reliable or unreliable.
A news site is scored on criteria such as whether it gathers and presents information responsibly, whether it repeatedly publishes false content and whether it discloses ownership and financing.
This information is usually followed by detailed background information on that particular news site supplied by NewsGuard.
Mr Brill and Mr Crovitz believe that fact-checking every story is an impossible task. What’s more, fact checking usually takes place after a story has done the rounds.
The site’s approach instead is to classify news websites as trustworthy and for readers to become aware where their news and information is coming from.
The service has repeatedly outed foreign-funded news sites such as the Russian RT.com and sputniknews.com. It has also taken aim at domestic US news sites that it regards as fronts for various bodies, including political organisations and individuals.
Tracking down dodgy health websites is another NewsGuard specialty, and the company has now set up a “Coronavirus Misinformation Tracking Centre” that names more than 80 so-called health websites publishing misinformation about COVID-19.
Mr Brill said that in the commercial sphere, NewsGuard had traced companies that help fund spurious news sites.
NewsGuard says Amazon, Walmart, Google and Berkshire Hathaway’s Geico are “among firms subsidising some of the internet’s sketchiest, even dangerous content — including Russian state-sponsored disinformation and healthcare hoax sites”.
Mr Brill said he wasn’t suggesting these companies deliberately funded those websites, it was more a case of advertising algorithms choosing those destinations. He said companies that use programmatic advertising need to be aware of where their ads can end up.
NewsGuard began analysing 7500 US news websites after its launch in September 2018, and has categorised news sites in France, Germany, Britain and Italy.
The company has clocked up 4400 sites to date.
In Australia, NewsGuard plans to target the sites responsible for 90-95 per cent of online news content when it launches mid-year.
Mr Brill said NewGuard would recruit someone “steeped in Australian media and highly credible” to run its Australian operation.
“We will do it (operate NewsGuard) with Australian journalists, not us,” he said.
Published in The Australian newspaper