Monthly Archives: May 2012

Authority in journalism and arguments from authority

What does it mean for a journalist to have “authority” as derived from her ability to be somewhere or do something that her readers cannot? Jay Rosen offers an answer in this essay: Not that the reporter’s ability creates an argument from authority as such, but a weaker claim: “a legitimate claim on public attention.”

By “authority” I simply mean the right to be listened to, a legitimate claim on public attention. You begin to have authority as a journalist not when you work for a brand name in news (although that helps) but when you offer a report that users cannot easily get on their own. If we go way back in journalism history, the first people to claim this kind of authority were those who could say… I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.

Read more: I’m There, You’re Not, Let Me Tell You About It

Critically thinking about reporters’ claims with Truth Goggles

“Truth Goggles” is a project by MIT’s Dan Schultz that provides a fact-checking layer on top of news articles.

Andrew Phelps described Truth Goggles at Nieman Lab last year:

Schultz is building what he calls truth goggles — not actual magical eyewear, alas, but software that flags suspicious claims in news articles and helps readers determine their truthiness. It’s possible because of a novel arrangement: Schultz struck a deal with fact-checker PolitiFact for access to its private APIs.

Phelps recently revisited Schultz’s project, which is in the middle of a public user study. Phelps took the study and reported on his experience:

Sure, my internal skepticism detector usually starts beeping whenever I see quotation marks, but this exercise also forced me to consider claims in a reporter’s copy — e.g., “About 2.5 million young adults from age 19 to 25 attained health coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act…” — the kind of information I’m more likely to assume is true.

After using the goggles for awhile, it was impossible to read articles without a skepticism bordering on

As I wrote in my thesis, academic work on critical thinking and journalism usually suggests that students use their skills on opinion pieces, not regular news stories. But my experience in my thesis suggested to me that those news stories often lack sufficient evidence for their claims, too.

So Phelps’s remark that Truth Goggles caused him to “consider claims in a reporter’s copy” won me over to the project. I took the Truth Goggles study myself this weekend, and I had a similar experience. Why not take the study yourself?

Visualizing the evolution of a debate on the web with Argublogging

Argublogging is an application that allows users to write arguments supporting or dissenting from any text on the web through a bookmarklet. It posts the arguments to the user’s blog and also includes a map of the debate in the argument web, “a richly structured interconnected web of debates and disputes, arguments and counterarguments.”

The respond-to-this-argument feature looks easy enough to use, although support is currently limited to posting to Tumblr and Blogger. The visualization of the “argument web,” though, looks more like something those with an academic background in argumentation would get the most use of, at least in its present form.

That said, for journalism, or any discipline involving argument, there is a lot of potential value to users in the ability to visualize the history and strands of an ongoing public debate. Someone who could use this or other argument-mapping tools to track and explain how a debate has evolved would be quite valuable to a news organization.