How NewsGuard Profits From Censoring Independent Media For The Elites

Running an independent media outlet is tough, and there’s a company called NewsGuard that’s making it even harder. NewsGuard claims to rate online content, including from media outlets, to see how trustworthy it is. But if we take a closer look, it’s doing more than that—it’s putting pressure on news organizations.

NewsGuard started in 2018. It sends out “analysts” to review online content creators and give them ratings. The ratings appear as small badges with scores next to search results.

But there’s more to the story. NewsGuard’s real power comes from its connections with advertising agencies. These agencies guide their clients to stop giving money for ads to content creators that NewsGuard’s “analysts” don’t like. Interestingly, big corporate media that are friendly with the establishment tend to get high scores. On the other hand, independent media that question the establishment often get low scores, even if they follow good journalism practices.
Subjective Criteria

NewsGuard says it’s fair and not biased. The company’s ratings look at nine things, like who wrote the article and if it follows the usual editorial rules. But in reality, most of the rating comes from whether NewsGuard thinks the content is truthful.

The first thing they check is if the source keeps spreading lies. They also look at how responsibly the source shares news. NewsGuard says if you fail the first test, you’ll fail the second. Another thing they check is if the headlines are accurate.
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If NewsGuard thinks a headline is wrong, they count it as a failure. They also want to see a pattern of fixing mistakes, or what they think are mistakes. These four things together make up more than half of the score.

Even if NewsGuard can’t find any real problems, they can still take away points if the source doesn’t share the opinions they like.

It claims that such content providers “egregiously cherry-pick facts or stories to advance opinions.”

Meanwhile, NewsGuard requires at least 60 points to give it a “credible” rating.

This approach becomes especially concerning when NewsGuard itself gets the facts wrong. For example, during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company labeled the idea that the SARS-CoV-2 virus leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China, as false. If a news source with a perfect score reported responsibly about the strong indirect evidence for a lab leak, it risked NewsGuard greatly lowering its score and wrongly tagging it as an “unreliable” source that “severely violates basic journalistic standards.”

The COVID-19 origins matter was a unique instance where NewsGuard later admitted its mistake, but only acknowledged that the lab leak theory couldn’t be entirely dismissed.

While it checks facts for others, NewsGuard seems to have its own opinions. There have been many cases where media outlets have faced criticism from NewsGuard for sharing views that challenge widely accepted ideas on topics like climate change, vaccine safety, COVID-19 restrictions, the Ukraine conflict, the World Economic Forum, and more. On these matters, NewsGuard appears to guard the mainstream perspective and demands that content creators stick to the expected viewpoint.

“I’ve had interactions with them where it was very obvious that they were anything but objective,” said John Tillman, head of the non-profit Franklin Foundation, which manages the news service The Center Square.

Most of the time, sources rated poorly by NewsGuard tend to be on the conservative side of politics.

The Media Research Center (MRC), a watchdog for conservative media, found that NewsGuard gave higher scores on average to left-leaning sources compared to right-leaning ones, with a difference of 22 points. The 2021 report was based on analyzing NewsGuard ratings for over 50 major news outlets categorized as left- or right-biased by AllSides, a company that gauges media bias through unbiased content and editorial assessments.

NewsGuard criticized the MRC report, claiming it picked specific outlets for the study and had a small sample size. MRC responded that the list included all news outlets reviewed by AllSides.

When MRC repeated the study in late 2022, the gap had widened to 25 points.

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