Several months ago, a very nice man from Newsguard contacted us to ask us a zillion questions about our website, so that in advance of their launch, they could rate how reliable of a “news source” we are.
If you haven’t heard of Newsguard, it’s a site and now app used by Microsoft’s mobile service, that rates websites on a number of factors and then shows you a scorecard so that you know whether or not you can trust the website you’re visiting. In essence, it’s another fact checker, but instead of checking facts on specific topics, it just rates websites as a whole.
I’m endlessly irritated by these sorts of “watchdogs,” who try to lump us into a category of news sources when it should be painfully obvious from the name of our website that we are NOT JOURNALISTS, and that our site is commentary and opinion.
Now, does that mean we can’t be trusted? Of course not. We always include a source in our commentary, so you know exactly on what information we are basing our opinions. When we discover that we’ve messed up, which isn’t often, we update our posts accordingly.
After tons of emails exchanged between me and the Newsguard guy, I felt fairly confident that we’d be given a fair rating. But nope.
It goes without saying that I disagree with the assessment that we don’t “gather and present information responsibly.” Hilariously, some of the sites we credit as sources most often for gathering information are labeled trustworthy, like the Daily Mail, and yet we are not. But I’m particularly irritated about the other two marks against us. Let’s unpack and untangle.
Here’s what the Newsguard guy asked us about how we write headlines, and my response to him.
Newsguard: We also have a criterion about whether sites use deceptive headlines. I’ve noticed that you often capitalize entire words in your headlines, which is one of the things I’m looking for.
Me: I am unaware of any rule or guideline which suggests that capitalization equates to deception. (???) We write exactly the way we talk. We talk in an animated and excited way about topics that animate and excite us. That doesn’t mean we’re deceiving or attempting to deceive anyone. Quite the contrary. It means we feel strongly about the subject matter and want to share our enthusiasm/disdain/excitement or whatever other adjective applies depending on the subject matter. It means we want our readers to know that if we were introducing a topic to them in person, we’d emphasize certain words. We’d be animated and lively, because that’s who we are. So that’s how we write our headlines.
When we write headlines, we try to do a couple of things. 1) Introduce the topic in a way that reflects how we’d introduce it in a face to face conversation and 2) Offer as much of a snapshot of the topic as we can with a limited number of characters available.
Again, we are not journalists or news reporters, and have never claimed to be. We are chicks who enjoy learning about the news of the day and writing our opinions about it, in a way that reflects who we are.
So, FYI. We write like we talk and therefore we are deceptive according to Newsguard.
And then the whole “handles the difference between news and opinion responsibly” thing? DUDE. OUR NAME IS CHICKS ON THE RIGHT. If you don’t know when you look at our site that we have a right leaning bias, you’re a legit moron.
That said, I think we’re more than responsible about how we present our opinions. We always provide a source for the information we’re commenting on. You can look at the source anytime, and then decide for yourself whether or not you agree with our commentary. Sometimes, we’ll just write up a quick post based on breaking news that doesn’t include a lot of commentary. But regardless, we always provide our source(s).
Anyway, Newsguard is now getting criticized for rating conservative sites more harshly than liberal ones. For example, freaking WONKETTE is rated trustworthy, you guys. WONKETTE, whose headline about AOC’s Green Deal plan was this:
OMG there are ALL CAPS in there, you guys. And according to Newsguard, that’s a sign of deception. Unless you’re Wonkette, in which case it’s fine. And by the way, these headlines are apparently fine and trustworthy too:
Again, Wonkette is rated trustworthy by watchdog Newsguard. They’re a legit newsource, and we’re not. Explain that one to me.
Now, thankfully, people are starting to catch on to how utterly useless Newsguard is. Check out this recent expose. Or this one. Or this one. Just like snopes and politifact before them, Newsguard is quickly showing itself to be just as biased as any other “fact checking” website. The problem is that they’re being used as a reliable add-on for Microsoft browser users to warn readers about which sites they can and can’t trust. And so what happens from there? Well, check out this email we received recently:
That’s what happens. Our content gets censored, first by libraries, and then by who knows who else.
Wonkette? They’ll be fine. Because they toe the right line, y’all. We’ve become the counter culture. The rebels.
But you know what?
We’re here to stay.