Wikipedia for news
I'm carrying this around with me for quite some time. Why is there no Wikipedia for news? Well, actually there is, but it's just a sad try to replicate the idea of Wikipedia and apply it to news.
The biggest issue with news is trust. Which news source is in all their subjectivity the most objective one, which information is based on solid research and which is just simply made up?
News publishers try to sell their network of reporters and their decades of experience in trustworthy research work as their USP, but we all know that none of their claims make them actually truly independent or objective.
The web on the other hand has turned billions of people into reporters over night through platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram. None of those people are independent or objective either, but together they build a greater picture, which through the mass of data is often closer to objectivity than anything else. Close enough that even old-school news agencies start to use them as a source for their own reports.
But while the web has turned the news world up-side-down from the reporters end, we still would need to read thousands of articles across the web, scroll through endless Twitter and Facebook streams and browse millions of photos on Instagram, Flickr and what not, if we at least wanted to try capture this bigger picture — and we'd need to repeat this for each and every news story. So basically we are stuck with what we find on the surface and with all the connected bias.
Wikipedia has become a pretty solid source for all the knowledge, human mankind has gathered so far. But where's the place to go to if I want to really know what's happening on Earth right now?
If I could make a wish, the news would somehow work like this:
Someone: "Hey have you heard about the protests in country xy?"
Me: "No I haven't! Wait a second…"
I'm fetching my smartphone and open https://wikipediafornews.org
On the homepage of that site is a simple search field with the option to add your location. Alternatively you can go and scroll through a list of news from the last week. They can be filtered and sorted by factors like distance from your location, actuality, coverage, visits, positivity and more.
The news about the protests is pretty high on top because of massive recent coverage from various sources world wide.
I click on the headline and get to the dedicated page for this news event. It starts with a general headline, which is being discussed, selected and regularly updated by the community of editors. It's just an entry for the page and directly followed by a list of headlines of the most linked / shared articles of news agencies covering the same event. This list can be expanded into a nice overview of all available headlines from articles around the world. The list is automatically translatable into your current language or English. Headlines in that list are also sortable by negativity or positivity in their wording, which is being analyzed by an algorithm.
Right after checking the various headlines, which give me a first impression what is actually going on and which already show some different perspectives, I scroll further down to a list of graphs and figures about this news event.
First is a map, to display where the protests actually take place. I can zoom in to get an idea of the surroundings.
The next graph shows the coverage timeline. It's clearly visible when the first reports about the protests appeared and how the number of mentions worldwide throughout various sources increased.
Further down you can find a graph showing the numbers of protesters mentioned from major news stations, newspapers and also from mentions on Twitter and Facebook. A big highlighted average is shown next to that graph, so you can instantly get an idea how many people actually took part in the protests.
Videos are following, sorted by relevance. Relevance is indicated by views, by quality, by trustability and many other factors and constantly discussed and updated.
Images are shown. Those with location data that match the actual region, where the protests take place are coming first. They are sorted again by various factors and constantly discussed. You can follow all the data behind the sorting decisions and also the discussions at any time.
Like on Wikipedia, the origins of all edits are visible. This makes sure that you can spot edits from political organizations or other biased sources. A "backside" page exists for each news, which displays the ongoing discussions and editing history.
An algorithm tries to instantly deliver relevant excerpts of all linked articles and mentions in social networks, which can then be reviewed by editors as well. When an excerpt is changed it has to be a 100% quote of the source to be displayed at all. Excerpts are combined with basic facts about each article/mention: the number of words, the percentage of negative and positive wordings, the author, etc.
Authors get their own profile as well, as any news sources. You find additional numbers and background information there when available and get a pretty good overview of older articles and facts coming from those authors or sources, including relations to political parties, how are they funded, etc.
Last but not least all this is backed with references to background information about the region, people, religion, older conflicts, political parties and anything else that helps to build a bigger picture of the event.
Anyone can become a contributor to such news pages. Wikipedia gets its trustworthiness from the transparency behind the platform and thousands of editors, who often lead endless discussions about the tiniest edits, which might hurt that trustworthiness. Only such a mass of editors and the possibility to follow all decisions all the time, make it possible to get at least an approximation to objectivity.
Combined with data from as many news sources as possible, this could form the bigger picture we regular try to somehow find ourselves. Such a platform might not stop us from reading what we actually want to read, but it could help to become more open and reveal some of the bias we get delivered in the news daily.
It's a rather utopian idea. I admit that I haven't thought this through and there are many unanswered questions. Wikipedia constantly struggles for donations. Such a platform would need to be based on a similar open and independent way of funding, which is probably one of the trickiest parts about it. How would you deal with a mass of new editors coming from a single political party or religious group? How fast would news publishers realize the competition and start to shut down access to basic articles and information? How huge would the technical effort be to gather all the needed data? Would such a platform ever have a chance to get enough traction to gather the needed amount of editors at all to keep it running on a daily basis?
Those are just a couple superficial questions without even getting to the core and still I believe that we need a better way to display what is actually happening around us. We should not only be able to collect relevant information and news globally together through the web, we should also have a place to analyze our news together and not just accept what we are being served.
Please feel free to reply to this on Twitter if you have any kind of thoughts or comments.