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Can Different Shades Of Text Help Separate Rumor From Fact In The News?

A recent Quartz story used differing shades of text in an attempt to prevent the spread of misinformation.

Breaking news on the Internet is an ever evolving process. Unlike in traditional media, where a definitive version of a story had to be finished and sent to print, on the Internet, as long as an edit button exists, a story is never truly finished. Many online publications use traditional corrections at the bottom of articles to denote changes, but web-based news outlet Quartz recently experimented with a new formula for separating fact from rumor in a breaking news story.

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Last week, HBO announced its new subscription-based streaming service HBO Now. On the day before the it was revealed at the much-hyped Apple event, Quartz writer Adam Epstein wanted to put up a roundup of all the available information on HBO Now that was available at that time, regardless of whether it was fact or rumor.

Since many of those claims were soon to be confirmed or disproved, Epstein essentially designed a new kind of news story, wherein sentences are color coded based on the reliability of the information behind them. At the top of the article, there is a key, which explains the how the shading works:


The brilliance of this new technique is that the shading can be easily changed as facts are confirmed, without altering the story itself, as they were in Epstein’s HBO story after the press conference on Monday. This could be extremely useful in an online media environment where stories are constantly developing.

It’s debatable whether or not we’d want an entire article–let alone every story–to use this method: it’s a bit like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time, trying to keep in mind both the content of a sentence and what its shading means. And it’s not like there aren’t other ways to make these distinctions: As Poynter mentions, words such as “reportedly” and “claimed” have always helped convey uncertainty to readers. But what is certain is that new protocols are needed in the world of online journalism, and pretending that words on a screen are the same as those printed on a piece of paper isn’t doing anyone any favors.

[via Poynter]

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I'm a writer living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Interests include social justice, cats, and the future.

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