How can journalists and technologists who design online news recommendation systems assess the quality of news stories about vaccines? What are the elements that indicate a news article about vaccines offers truly informative and accurate information to readers? For example, is it enough for an article to reference vaccine information from the World Health Organization, or should there be citations from other reputable sources as well? And how can reputable sources be identified?
In order to discuss these questions, and consider the challenge of how to assess the quality of vaccine news stories, members of Hacks/Hackers and the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington convened a small gathering of science and public health journalists and technology stakeholders in December 2021.
“While much gets discussed that is problematic in vaccine reporting, we were looking for feedback from experts across journalism, science, and technology about how to identify quality vaccine news,” says Andrea Bras of Hacks/Hackers. “The goal of the December event was to identify elements of high-quality vaccine reporting by developing a quality vaccine reporting questionnaire that will be shared with journalists, researchers and other stakeholder communities.”
Participants were each invited to share articles that represent high quality vaccine news. During the session, attendees then discussed a “vaccine news quality questionnaire,” and were invited to consider how the questionnaire might work in practice as a tool to discern high quality vaccine news.
Results of the questionnaire brainstorming session will be used to inform ARTT (Analysis and Response Tools for Trust), an expert-informed software tool. Currently in a prototyping phase, the ARTT tool is intended to provide community connectors with expert guidance about how to talk about efficacy in trust-building ways.
“As the ARTT team designs the prototype over the next few months, better assessments and determinations of what makes for quality vaccine news will be helpful,” says Bras. “Our aim is to develop a tool that will ultimately help interested readers about how to identify quality vaccine news.”
The ARTT project, which was awarded funding in 2021 to participate in the National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator, is a collaboration between Hacks/Hackers, the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, and other partner organizations.
The December 2021 brainstorming session builds on earlier vaccine safety work conducted by NewsQ, an initiative of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism and supported by Hacks/Hackers.