Among a multitude of innovations, the arrival of the Internet has put up challenges to the quality of information. When traditional news outlets held the monopoly on news it was their duty to provide and to assess the quality of information. They were the filter between the mass of info and the readers.
But who is going to determine quality information standards after the arrival of the Net?
Has the notion of quality changed in the information ecosystem, and if yes, how has it changed? What is the relationship between quality and quantity online?
Fondazione Ahref was born in Trento last year and has been inspired by the impressive results of some US non-profit news organizations, like ProPublica or the Knight Foundation.
President of the foundation, Luca De Biase, said: "The Internet and social media era has seen the public coming into play as an active participant, a public enabled to participate through new technologies. The culture of the Web is to encourage action by those that use it. The 'Google system' incentivizes the practice of being linked to by someone. Every platform, due to its structure, produces some behaviour incentivizing action. The Fondazione Ahref's aim is to study and research in order to create forms that incentivize citizens to participate to the information and to the quality of information".
"In this context then it is no longer the position of a cultural authority to define the quality of information. That role is now taken on by those generating the information, by those encouraging a critical approach, and those participating in the experience - creating, in the spirit of serving, a role that is no longer a means to earning a living" but a continued research, De Biase wrote.
Ahref owes its unusual name to the HTML code for adding links, in a reference to the early Internet times when the Web was written in html and specifically, to the qualifying moment of that writing - the link. In Arabic, De Biase said, the word means friendship or to agree on something.
The aim then is to agree on a method that qualifies the way the information is produced. The quality of information can be assessed through the common method adopted by the Anglo-Saxon press: transparency and an empirical attention to facts and data and to what is verifiable.
Fondazione Ahref wants to define standards and parameters of how to inform through the news. In this process two things emerge as fundamental: the responsibility and the accountability of what is written and at the same time its credibility, which can be proved only by the content of what has been written.
The foundation develops several projects. Among these there is TIMU, a web crowdsourcing platform that allows the collaborative production of information amongst citizens. Timu is a Swahili word that means "team".
Anyone who has suggestions about a story or an inquiry can submit it to the community and citizens can participate and collaborate to report on it sharing ideas, documents, comments. The prerequisite is the agree on a shared research method about how information are gathered. Everyone can participate, individuals as well as organizations.
The main goal is to promote an active citizenship and participatory and conscious information. The model should be participative but at the same time rigorous in terms of methods.
TIMU's first inquiry looks at concerns of "the school left behind", regarding students dropping out of school in the south of Italy. It was carried out with the collaboration of Fondazione per il Sud (Foundation for the South).
Another project is Wavu, a platform for "meta-journalism": information about journalism, social media, blogs and social networks. The name refers to another Swahili word that means "network", in the sense of a net belonging to the people. The aim is to provide a forum of reflections about how it could be possible to inform.
Last but not least there is iData, a project about data journalism in Italy. Despite this having already attracted much interest internationally, it is still quite innovative in Italy. "iData aims to develop the first Italian open source platform for data-driven journalism. The platform is fully licensed by Creative Commons, and will be linked to a range of communities that can cooperate in the collection, production and processing of data", the presentation on the site said.
Guido Romeo, responsible for the initiative, said iData looks at the best examples of the Interactive News unit of the New York Times and the Guardian DataBlog. The first appearance of iData was through its blog, Opendata .
Even if legislation on accessing public data for citizens in Italy is far behind the Anglo-Saxon ones (environmental and health data, for example, are difficult to access due to the Law No. 241 of 1990 that restricts the right of access to information for "interested" citizens), several sources and public databases however exist.
As De Biase underlined, Italy has been debating for some time on how to improve the quality of information in order to provide a more informed and responsible citizenship. "Fondazione Ahref has decided stopping to just talk and to start to do something."