Friday, December 15, 2006

NewsTrust - what philanthropy needs (and, maybe, what philanthropy reads?)

NewsTrust is cool. And as the year starts to wind down (today was the last day of school for my kid so it feels like the end of the year) I find that this site has remarkably raised my spirits about what we might accomplish next year.

In tech parlance, NewsTrust is a social network site that ranks news stories based on quality journalism. In "mom speak' (as in, how do I explain this to my mom) it is a place where we get to tell each other what we think of different news stories. In their own words, here's what NewsTrust is:

"NewsTrust is a citizen news service that helps people find good journalism online. ... NewsTrust members rate news stories based on journalistic quality, not just popularity....NewsTrust encourages both media literacy and civic engagement. NewsTrust review tools guide members through careful news evaluations, based on key journalistic principles such as fairness, balance, evidence, context and importance. Independent research studies show that citizen reviewers using these review tools can evaluate news quality reliably - and as effectively as experienced journalists....
NewsTrust is non-profit, non-partisan and member-driven."

OK, but here's what I think:
It is cool because it will help me find things I might not otherwise find. It is cool because it might help improve the quality of journalism. It is cool because it is a worthwhile application of the power of social media, not a silly application thereof.

So what for philanthropy? NewsTrust shows how we can put the power of the crowds to work as editors. Philanthropy (foundation philanthropy, that is) suffers from an information problem - there is too much and no one wants to be impolite and say, "Sorry, that report/analysis/initiative is garbage." Even though they think it is.

Following the model of NewsTrust, philanthropy could use the kind of "rise to the top" ranking, done by peers, that would allow us to know who thinks what research/analysis/initiative is strong/helpful/exemplary and why. No one needs be impolite,* the quality and filtering happen by bringing the good stuff to the top. No one ever has to look down at the bottom.

Check out NewsTrust. See if it is helpful to you. (Its a nonprofit - if its helpful to you, support it). And then lets see if we can't make something like this happen with philanthropic research.

*Impolite, which is usually a non-issue among foundation folks, is actually a problem in some of these social media. Witness David Pogue's recent column and the nastiness with which people slam each other on Digg.

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