NewsGuard is basically a nutrition label for news on the internet. Just as food labels help you glean nutritional value when you compare foods and brands at the supermarket, NewsGuard’s ratings help you evaluate the tsunami of information, misinformation, and disinformation on the web.
It works through a downloadable (and free) browser extension or plugin that allows NewsGuard’s ratings to pop up next to news websites and search-engine links to articles from those websites. Sites that offer news consumers credible information and follow basic standards of accuracy, transparency, and accountability get a green rating, while those that don’t earn a red one. There are also ratings for satire sites and platforms that are not vetted.
The brainchild of veteran journalists Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz , NewsGuard was founded in September 2018. In its first year, it has evaluated and rated more than 2,800 news and information websites, which it says accounts for 96 percent of all the news consumed and shared online in the United States.
A team of experienced journalists evaluates the news outlets in nine categories like “gathers and presents information responsibly,” “avoids deceptive headlines,” “clearly labels advertising,” “regularly corrects and clarifies errors,” and “does not publish false content,” and then grades them on a scale of 0 to 100 with a score of at least 60 needed to earn a green checkAnything below 60 receives a red exclamation point to signify unreliable information. As of September 2019, about 30 percent of the rated websites received a red exclamation point, with many of them providing misinformation about health.
As of now, The New York Times is one the highest-rated sites with green checks in all nine categories, while the Russian government-backed rt.com is one of the lowest because it failed in five of the nine criteria. Ratings are updated every three months or more frequently if circumstances like a change in ownership or a controversy warrant it. News outlets can boost their score by improving their journalistic practices.
One year out, the feedback on NewsGuard has been mostly positive, although some news outlets that did not receive the green rating like the UK’s Daily Mail cried foul. And not all green ratings are equal. Case in point: Fox News Channel (at foxnews.com) has a green check even though it failed in three of the nine categories, most notably that it does not regularly correct or clarify errors. But with more than 125,000 people around the world downloading the software, research by Gallup shows it’s starting to make a difference, with 91 percent of users finding the ratings helpful.
That said, there is no silver bullet when it comes to sorting reliable news sites and stories from dodgy ones, and it’s important to view NewsGuard as just one of many tools to evaluate the credibility of information online. So while it’s helpful to check out those nutrition labels, setting up NewsGuard shouldn’t be a one-and-done substitute for the big-picture goal: to seek out a balanced news diet and use critical thinking and news literacy skills to constantly assess what you’re actually consuming.