Mar 11

Goldacre support for the footnotes campaign

I’ve made a modest proposal a few times before (here and here) about one simple thing which journalists can do online to grow trust in what they write: use footnotes.

No need in digital for fiddly little numbers perched above the word and text at the foot of the page: just a live link which gives the provenance, the full text or the detail. Now it’s so easy, why shouldn’t the reader be able to see – if they’re curious – where the information came from?

Will this transform journalism? Definitely not. There are plenty of sources which can’t be acknowledged, there isn’t always time (as any blogger knows) to fill in all the links and text with too much blue in it can be irritating to read. Listing sources doesn’t abolish disputes about whether of not material has been used justifiably or not.

But none of those considerations undermine the general idea: that any news platform wanting to be taken seriously should make it an everyday practice to show where stuff comes from. No more complicated than that. In the long run that would be a more useful and valuable move than the current fad of newspapers making all their staffs use Twitter. Squeezed and scared by the collapse of the business model for daily printed papers, journalists have become very defensive in the past few years. This kind of simple open-handed trust-building would be one small way to reverse that mindset.

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