Data J Lab at ‘Rethinking Journalism’, University of Groningen

On January 23-24, 2014, Data J Lab’s director Stefania Milan and Alice Corona, MA, took part in the expert workshop “Rethinking Journalism II: The Societal Role & Relevance of Journalism in a Digital Age”, organized by the Centre for Media and Journalism Studies at the University of Groningen. They presented a paper entitled “Fact-Checking and the Journalistic Tradition: How Does Technology Contribute to Shape Contemporary Journalistic Practice?” in which they explored the role of technological artefacts in reproducing the journalistic process and values, thus allowing non-professionals to perform verification and newsmaking roles. The thought-proviking question they posed to the audience was “Journalism is crucial to our democracies… but so are journalists?”. You can read the abstract of the presentation below, and download Alice and Stefania’s presentation here.

Fact-Checking and the Journalistic Tradition: How Does Technology Contribute to Shape Contemporary Journalistic Practice?
Alice Corona and Stefania Milan, Data J Lab, Tilburg University

The journalistic tradition postulates its role as a watchdog to the benefit of society, contributing to an informed citizenry by offering the public accurate and reliable information so vital for democratic life. The advent of the so-called web 2.0 and User Generated Content (UGC), together with the diffusion of blogs, question the role of professional journalists as the sole guardians of the “gates of democracy”. These developments pose two broad questions to scholars of journalism, concerning respectively social dynamics and technological artifacts – and the two are deeply interconnected. On the one hand, we should ask what is the significance of these practices in relation to the core values of the journalistic profession, while on the other we ought t question the role of technology in shaping these new journalistic practices. In fact, although these new possibilities and platforms for participation of “the people formerly known as the audience” have raised enthusiasm about their democratic potential, they have also offered arguments to defend the role of the journalist as a source of quality information, as opposed to the (lack of) wisdom of “the crowd”. But what is the contribution of interactive web services for user integration to contemporary media practices? How can web platforms be developed in a way that allows for the translation of journalistic ethics, values and practices into digital components?

Fact-checking, as the quintessence of crowdsourcing in contemporary journalism, offers an interesting case study to investigate these questions. In this paper, we will explore the crowd-sourced fact-checking platform developed by the Italian non-profit Fondazione < ahref. The study of both (technological) platforms and (social) practices allows us to explore not only the ways in which citizens can act as documenters on news items, but also the choices and compromises that software developers face when translating the key elements of the journalistic profession into digital elements. In other words, how can algorithms, lines of code, and “digital objects” such as social media interactions convey values like accuracy, reliability, independence and impartiality? Moving from the qualitative analysis of the case study, the paper will offer a typology of new “journalistic objects” and reflect on their challenge to the epistemology of journalism.

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