List of ‘unreliable’ news sites

OPINION

Poynter apologizes, pulls List of ‘unreliable’ news sites, citing ‘weakness in the methodology’

 | May 02, 2019 04:39 PM
The Poynter Institute, a journalism nonprofit organization, has pulled a list it had published of 515 news websites it identified as “unreliable” after a flood of complaints that revealed “weaknesses in the methodology.”
Poynter raised eyebrows this week when it posted an ” index” of what it identified as “unreliable” news sites. The index came from merging various lists identifying websites purportedly spreading misinformation.
The list was compiled by the group’s International Fact-Checking Network, and initially included the Washington Examiner. After we took issue with our inclusion, Poynter recognized that it was done in error, writing that after review, we had not “met the criteria for inclusion.”
What was especially alarming to many critics of the list, in addition to questioning the decision to include certain websites, was that language in the accompanying story called for advertisers to use the index to “blacklist” sites in the hopes of driving them out of business.
On Thursday night, Poynter pulled the list, and its managing editor, Barbara Allen, posted a letter to the editor explaining the decision. Allen wrote that the initial aim of the project “was to provide a useful tool for readers to gauge the legitimacy of the information they were consuming.”
However, she wrote, “Soon after we published, we received complaints from those on the list and readers who objected to the inclusion of certain sites, and the exclusion of others. We began an audit to test the accuracy and veracity of the list, and while we feel that many of the sites did have a track record of publishing unreliable information, our review found weaknesses in the methodology. We detected inconsistencies between the findings of the original databases that were the sources for the list and our own rendering of the final report.”
As a result, she wrote that Poynter was “removing this unreliable sites list until we are able to provide our audience a more consistent and rigorous set of criteria.”
She went on to say, “We regret that we failed to ensure that the data was rigorous before publication, and apologize for the confusion and agitation caused by its publication. We pledge to continue to hold ourselves to the highest standards.”
Read the full letter here.
Editor’s Note: This post is an rewritten update to an earlier post on the removal of a portion of the Poynter story to reflect the fact that the entire list has been taken down.
Disclosure: In March, I attended a seminar about covering the 2020 Census sponsored by Poynter Institute and Georgetown University. Also, this coming year, the Examiner will be hosting writing fellows through a journalism program jointly run by Poynter and the Charles Koch Institute.
Letter from the Editor
May 2, 2019 Barbara Allen
Dear readers:
On Tuesday, April 30, Poynter posted a list of 515 “unreliable” news websites, built from pre-existing databases compiled by journalists, fact-checkers and researchers around the country. Our aim was to provide a useful tool for readers to gauge the legitimacy of the information they were consuming.
Soon after we published, we received complaints from those on the list and readers who objected to the inclusion of certain sites, and the exclusion of others. We began an audit to test the accuracy and veracity of the list, and while we feel that many of the sites did have a track record of publishing unreliable information, our review found weaknesses in the methodology. We detected inconsistencies between the findings of the original databases that were the sources for the list and our own rendering of the final report.
Therefore, we are removing this unreliable sites list until we are able to provide our audience a more consistent and rigorous set of criteria. The list was intended to be a starting place for readers and journalists to learn more about the veracity of websites that purported to offer news; it was not intended to be definitive or all encompassing. We regret that we failed to ensure that the data was rigorous before publication, and apologize for the  confusion and agitation caused by its publication. We pledge to continue to hold ourselves to the highest standards.
— Barbara Allen, managing editor, Poynter.org

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