Background

The issue

In 2008 8,760 exabytes of information were uploaded to the web (one exabyte being the equivalent of 50,000 years’ worth of DVD-quality video).

How can anyone be expected to navigate through this forest of information? How can people distinguish between accurate, useful information and inaccurate mis- or disinformation?

One way is to look for news articles, particularly those written by reputable organisations. News covers every subject imaginable, accumulates faster than almost any other content, and is syndicated via countless different outlets.

Yet right now information about how news has been produced – authorship, publication dates etc. – is not captured consistently or transparently. If it was it could be of enormous benefit to the journalist, to news organisations and, most importantly, to the public.

The proposal

In 2007 the Media Standards Trust submitted a proposal to the MacArthur Foundation to research the issue and to develop ways to address the problem. It also, in partnership with in partnership with Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s Web Science Research Initiative (since renamed the Web Science Trust), entered the Knight News Challenge 2008.

The MST proposed to research and develop a process to add information to news and information content. The intention being to create clear and consistent provenance for news so that, ultimately, people would be better able to find and assess news stories on the web.

Based on the proposal the MacArthur Foundation awarded the Media Standards Trust a $350,000 grant, spread over the following two years.

Then, in May 2008, the Media Standards Trust and WSRI became the first UK based entry to win a prestigious Knight New Challenge award (covered by journalism.co.uk and Press Gazette). The $350,000 Knight award matched the MacArthur grant. You can see Knight’s coverage of the award here.

The project

As a consequence of its research, the MST concluded that the most effective way to identify the provenance of news articles clearly and consistently was to use microformats.

Working with the Associated Press it then developed a draft microformat for news – called hNews - which identified:

  • Who wrote it
  • Who it was published by
  • What source organisation it comes from, if any
  • When it was first published
  • Where it was written
  • When it was changed since publication
  • What rights are associated with it
  • What journalistic codes of practice it adheres to, if any

hNews was launched at a News Innovation unconference, organised by the MST at NESTA in London, on 10th July 2009. At the conference the Associated Press also announced that they would be integrating hNews into all of their articles over the course of the following year.

Since the launch in 2009 over 500 US news sites have adopted hNews, as well as tecnology providers such as Saxotech and TownNews.

In February 2010, the MST developed a WordPress plugin for hNews, to allow WordPress users to integrate hNews to their articles (a blogger plugin has since been developed as well). The MST also created downloadable hNews labels so readers can better see the provenance of news articles – like food ingredients on the side of a food packet.

The benefits

The general public, journalists and news organisations all stand to benefit from the distinct and consistent provision of basic information about online news articles.

A member of the public has more information with which to search for news more intelligently and to assess an article’s authority and credibility.

A journalist, or someone producing journalism, can be sure their work is accurately identified on the web.

News organisations can use the metadata to create new ways in which to access and navigate stories and unlock the value of their archive.

Plans

We continue to explain the purpose and benefits of hNews. We are developing a service – itchanged.org – that demonstrates one of the specific benefits of hNews (being able to see when a news article has changed – and how). We are also looking at how to bridge hNews with linked data schemas such as RDFa.