DRC Kinshasa 28th of November 2011. Elections Day, Voting Day and Ballots counting. MONUSCO / Myriam Asmani

How do we verify Journalists? (exactly)

To answer a question that has come up a few times.

A required part of what Newslinn is about is creating a network/apps/tools specifically for journalists – this is at the heart of Newslinn ie. improve communication coming and going from citizens and organisations to journalists.

This means that journalists are our core user. They get to post, promote and initiate chat messaging etc.

This means that when a “journalist” signs up – we need to verify who they are, if they are a journalist and to also build the features the enable them to be ‘crowd-verified’.

Newslinn implements a ‘4 star’ verification system.

Level 1 / Star 1

When a journalist initially signs up, we collect the typical meta data that is available during normal web browsing activity (IP Address, User Agent, Time, Day, duration of visit).

We also ask each journalist to fill out our sign up form – this (currently) works off their Twitter account and also asks for their mobile phone number and email address.

Both mobile phone and email address are ‘verified’ as part of the sign up process for journalists. A pin code is sms’d to the phone number and an email is sent to the email address.

Both need to be confirmed by the journalist for the journalist to receive a 1 star.

We have futures features planned for this sign up process, including sync’ing with linkedin, uploading of photographic certs of journalism degrees et. al. most of which will be 100% optional for the journalist.

When someone uses Twitter to sign up to a website (Newslinn or any other) – Twitter as standard shares a lot of data with the third part (how many followers, when the account was created et. al) – this is used as part of the validation for journalists. When a journalists Twitter account is created only recently, Newslinn gets an email alert.

The end point here – is that everything that Newslinn can do technically and automatically can and will contribute to the 1 star verification. This is by no means 100% fool proof or scam proof but it requires direct interest in the person to go through the onboardng process – including sharing the mobile phone number, email address and IP address (albeit automatically).

Part of Star 1 is a whitelisting the domain name for verification. ie. if someone signs up using a work email address from their newsroom (which we have on our whitelist) – this stands to credit as opposed to using a yahoo or gmail email address.

Level 2 / Star 2

The second star gets attributed to journalists that have been manually approved by someone internally in Newslinn. This means that someone in here has looked at their application, searched on social networks for that person (for LinkedIn or alternative profiles) and checked to see if that user has an internet footprint. We also use FullContact API to see more information. Ultimately this is a review of what was sent in by the journalist. In most cases its an easy process as journalists tend to have a strong social network footprint.

Level 3 / Star 3

This star is currently theoretical as we have not yet built the systems. This star is going to be a rating system based on external users/journalists upvoting or verifying a journalist. ie. people external outside of Newslinn that recognise a journalist as ‘a journalist’. This will be approching the concept of “quality” over “verification” which is something we want to be sensitive about. When we develop this system we will be working with journalists on our Slack chat to work through potential factors to use.

Level 4 / Star 4 – PTSD

Outside of how ‘verified’ or ‘true’ a person is as being a journalist – there is a huge responsbility for Newslinn to protect journalists from PTSD –¬†Posttraumatic stress disorder. Regardless of whether or not a journalist is ‘verified’ as being a journalist – they may or may not have the support systems or processes involved in managing PTSD when managing photos being shared of war or stress. The Newslinn level 4 star is restricted mostly to Newsrooms that support and have support for their journalists for PTSD. Although we label this as a ‘star’ – it’s more of a restriction than a verification level.

Why do this?

Initially when Newslinn was being developed – we needed to verify people – forgetting about if that person is a journalist or not. Newslinn is not a social network – we are a veritical network – designed to serve a purpose – hence, we don’t want random free email accounts and people to join and create free accounts without purpose. So to that effect we needed to verify people signing up. Verifying a mobile phone, email and IP address works very well for this.

Beyond that (ie. beyond the level 1 star) – citizens and organisations want the control to be able to share with journalists¬†they feel they can trust. Sometimes this means ‘newsroom’ journalists – ie. those employed in a newsroom – sometimes it means journalists with X years of experience – other times it means those they can trust with sensitive material. Our purpose is to faciliate citizens and organisations communicating with groups of jouranlists that can be classified under a level of trust – by doing this – incredible features can be built on top of this trust system. That being of someone wanting to share something deep and sensitive with only a select few ‘types’ of journalists – and purposefully journalists they don’t know – this is something social networks can’t achieve. In this situation a person would need to build contact list of journalists, connect with them (or harvest their email) and only then be in a position to share with them. This is ineffective at best. There needs to be better ways for citizens and organisations to share with journalists – nin particular with citizens whereby there exists a use case of community whistle blowing and the need to share with only ‘newsroom’ journalists – but the catch 22 is that the citizen doesn’t know and isn’t aware of which journalist they can and should share with.

This is the deeper reason why Newslinn exists – to solve the unkown unkown. People can spend time searching on Twitter or Linkedin for journalists – to then connect and follow them – or they can have confidence in sharing with groups of journalists – that they decide. Newslinn does enable 1-to-1 communication – but our key benefit is that a citizen/organisation can share without directly knowing who the journalist is – and instead group journalists and discover new journalists before sharing – and ultimately enable news to be shared with much more journalists and much more easily than before.