True Ties Petitions The New York Times For Transparency

A new campaign launched today from the Checks and Balances Project aimed at exposing the “true ties of ‘bought and biased’ pundits.”

The Checks and Balances Project is an organization that focuses on holding government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable for their actions related to energy, government spending, public health, and the environment. Their new campaign at TrueTies.org asks users to sign a petition to The New York Times public editor Arthur S. Brisbane to publicly disclose the financial ties of their so-called expert sources:

Guest writers like Robert Bryce mislead the public by offering expert opinion under innocuous titles like “Senior Fellow.” But often, guest writers like Mr. Bryce, and his employer the Manhattan Institute, receive millions of dollars from industries like fossil fuels to fund their work.

While I believe that all voices should be heard, The New York Times can end this confusion and ensure better transparency.

Although the campaign is targeted at all media, True Ties is starting with The New York Times to set the standard as an industry leader.

Gabe Elsner, deputy director of the Checks and Balances project, said that organizers have not yet talked to anyone from The Times. Today, they are sending the letter to Brisbane via email that is signed by 50 media professionals and professors who support the cause.

“If they don’t respond to us with the group of supporters we have, we hope to build a grassroots base of New York Times readers who sign the petition,” Elsner said. They only plan to send the petition if necessary — that is, if there’s no response from The Times.

“It’s something as simple as op/ed staff sending out one additional email when they decide to publish the content,” Elsner said.

How you can ensure transparency on your website

If you’re at a newsorg today and you have the ability to set a standard of transparency for your contributors, here are some ideas (from me, unassociated with True Ties):

Google Form: Require all your contributors to fill out a Google Form through which you require them to disclose specific information (financial ties, institutional affiliations, former employment).

Why a Google form:It’s free. And using a form instead of asking contributors to submit their own disclosures via email sets a standard for required information. Then, you can make your spreadsheet open to the public to see all disclosures from people. You can even use the spreadsheet as a database and make it searchable and filterable.

WordPress author descriptions: If you’re using WordPress, you can make use of author descriptions by putting disclosure information in the author description, which is displayed when anyone goes to the author page. The best use case for this would be to disclose backgrounds of contributors, rather than sources.

EditFlow story metdata: Using the WordPress Edit Flow plugin, you can add a custom metadata field for source disclosures and attach it to each story. My disclosure: I worked with some of the people who developed WordPress.

If you’re interested in signing the petition, you can do so at trueties.org.