In 2020 and 2021, we asked panels of journalists and platform technologists various versions of this question:
How can higher quality news rise to the top of news ranking and recommendation systems?
Panelists offered suggestions on the topics of opinion, science/health, and local journalism in five white papers, pointing out critical issues and needs in the current results of news feeds. Through their deliberations, we learned not only how aggregators fail to meet journalistic standards, but also how difficult it can be for machines to define news quality.
Through their work, these panelists also exemplified one way that public voices could perhaps participate in larger, complicated systems such as algorithmic recommendation. Different ways for incorporating multiple voices exist in other fields: take for example “minipublic” models from governance scholars such as Archon Fung, or design thinking processes that allow multiple people to have impact upon a solution.
Inspired by these models, the NewsQ panel framework offers a method particular to news recommendation. Read more about the background of this method in this recently published article in Journalism Studies (published version) (accepted version), an abstract of which is below.
This new paper also explains how other organizations might try to form their own panels — we’d love to hear how others might take and adapt this process moving forward.
Abstract. This paper describes a participatory approach to realize journalistic ethics and values in platform news distribution systems. Using methods from participatory governance and design thinking, three panels of journalists and platform news representatives in 2020 tried to find consensus around value definitions that could inform the ranking and recommendation of news articles. Examining how they negotiated the areas of local, opinion, and science/health journalism, we discover possibilities and limitations for journalists to inform the design of these systems.
More broadly, the effort to prioritize news content according to journalistic values belongs to a larger question regarding the role of expertise within democratic societies. The establishment of technical definitions in collaboration with others can be understood as a softer form of algorithmic governance. This governance may allow for some democratizing potential in online systems, here within a “minipublic” model defined by political scientist Archon Fung. Yet the implementation of these definitions remains within the decision-making power of technology companies that do not identify as news publishers. The exploration into platform news distribution is an opportunity to reflect on the challenges of governance, both algorithmic and democratic.