NLTimes – our final starting point for a lifelong journey.

The first step may be the hardest, but remember it takes many more steps to make a journey.

In the past two months, we have often talked about the role of the audience in modern journalism. It shouldn’t therefore come as a surprise that during our final fact checking project, we came to realize that it is up to the audience to decide if they want to use this medium or not. Our advice is to use it as a starting point, but to be aware that you need to look beyond the information presented to you there in order to get the full picture.

The Medium: NL Times 

Founded in 2013, NL times (http://www.nltimes.nl/) is a English-writing news medium based in the Netherlands, it focuses on Dutch news and writes short but snappy reports about different aspect of the country, including politics, business, sports, health, and weird news. With three international students in our group, it was the logical medium to choose because it is a good starting point for foreigners to know what’s going on in the country  they currently live in.

The Articles:

  1. No sick days for over half of Dutch employees by Ingrid Grinstad, published on 2014-11-24.
  2. Dangerous levels of B6 found in multivitamins by Janene van Jaarsveldt, published on 2014-11-24.
  3. Psychological problems cost Dutch business 20 billion euros by Janene van Jaarsveldt, published on 2014-12-02.
  4. Over 19 pct. Drop in Auto sales by Ingrid Grinstad, published on 2014-12-03.
  5. New police reports filed with digid by Janene van Jaarsveldt, published on 2014-12-01.

“No sick days for over half of Dutch employees”

The fact that the article contains so many statistical claims, immediately raises questions in Wernard’s head about the validity of those claims. After crosschecking the sources, he found that two out of nine claims were unconfirmed. The editor was willing to change one of them but judged the other a semantic issue. Regarding the choice for the title and the way NLtimes reporters write stories from large data reports he said the following:

“The choice of the title is because in our opinion it is the most interesting piece of information that we could accurately write in a fairly short headline that fits the design of our website.

We choose what to write based on what we find most interesting, what we consider to be most relevant, and sometimes with a consideration for details that may play out long-term.

Dangerous levels of B6 found in multivitamins

Gabriele found that the article manages to provide quite accurate information about vitamin B6. Most facts presented in the article are valid with additional possibilities to be more accurate. Nonetheless, it is important to stress out that small accuracy mistakes count. The opening sentence, which is quite strong and brings negative connotation to the readers, can be considered false and misleading as it might signalise false message about the vitamin industry. The headline and the text match well but evoke the question if those dangerous levels are found in the Netherlands, Europe, or somewhere else. Moreover, some key words indicate vague message as the journalist could have indicated what kind of vitamin pills were examined and which of them indicated excessive level of B6. Had the journalist provided another source and point of view, a more solid foundation for a trustworthy article would have been created. Interestingly enough, the journalist doesn’t mention that this article is a direct translation of the press release provided by the Consumentenbond. By refraining from providing a link to the actual results of the research, the article gives an impression that the journalist did not find it important to disclose which multivitamins are “dangerous”. All in all, this article brings a deeper level to the question regarding trustworthiness of the source used in the article. Even if the results mentioned in the article match the results in the research, it does not valid that they are correct. This kind of investigation would overstep fact-checking process as additional research would be needed. This press release raises the question what was the motivation to conduct this research and publish a press release. This could be a great idea for future investigation of the same topic, research reliability of Consumentenbond.

Psychological problems cost Dutch business 20 billion euros” 

April found that the article retrieved only partial information form the original OECD report, which resulted in a biased story. Visualization and biased words also contributed to the prejudged statement.

Not mentioning sources puts the journalists’ credibility at risk, especially when they involved a politician in their report. Providing a scenic photo of the event might be the most common solution to deal with the political thing. Providing the link and referring to the source would have been an effective approach to avoid this risk.

In short, this article gave basic but inaccurate information. Framing is used to represent the attitude of the journalist that leaves April to ask the following question:

“How to demonstrate a standpoint that represents the comparative information in line with the original sources when a journalist write a news based on a specific study?”

Over 19 pct. Drop in Auto sales

Than found this article to basically be a summary of different reports from different organizations. The information was collected online and the statements were quoted from somewhere else. There are two similar articles from other media were posted one day before.

The articles share something in common, especially the data. However, the author of the article being fact checked misused an important number. There is a reasonable suspicion on the journalist that she has not read the original report from AUMACON, and she just copied the words from the second article above and misunderstood the meaning of the data. The author analyses some possible reasons of the phenomenon, and she claimed that what she said was quoted from some trustable sources. However, the original sources of the quotes cannot be found. There are also no enough supports to the journalist’s statements in this article. Overall, there is no original researches done by the author, and it did not offer a valid level of analysis to the issue. The validity of the statements were not proofed. There are many mistakes in this article, for example the use of the data. In summary, there is a suspicion on this article of misleading readers due to the big attracting number which was wrongly used in the beginning and the unconfirmed claims that the author made in the article.

New police reports filed with digid

This short article left Wineke with more questions than sentences. What was the background of these bold claims made about past and present problems and future improvements? With no links or source given, she had to look for other articles on the same topic and found several government publications that answered her questions. One was a report about current problems published last summer by the Inspection of Safety and Justice, along with a promise by the minister to make improvements, the other an official statement by the national police department. She suspected the latter had been used as the source, and that much information was lost in translation. A mail from the editor confirmed and explained this:

In our opinion, we source the information to the police department. Perhaps this could have been clearer, but we are satisfied with the work. Further, some articles are long, some are short, and that is a decision made at an editorial level based on many factors.

It would be wise to also keep in mind what other news stories are going on that day when considering another story’s word count. (…) you can safely say that December 1, 2014, was an extremely busy news day. We marshalled our resources and placed more emphasis on the stories mentioned above.

Conclusion

Our analysis has lead to some interesting findings, both positive and negative.

On the negative side:

  1. Source reliability was questionable or unclear at times.
    • Although it is an online medium, no direct links were given to any sources which we found odd.
  2. Unvalidated information was presented as valid.
    • Articles contained statements or information that was incorrect or not accurate enough.
  3. Grammar and spelling error were found.
    • Apart from making the site look bad, it could mislead users.

On the positive side:

  1. NLTimes has been quick to accept corrections when errors were pointed out.
    • We have noted before how important it is for media to acknowledge their mistakes these days.
  2. NLTimes delivers news in a clear and fast manner.
    • Given how it means to be a place where foreigners can quickly check the Dutch news, this is important.
    • However, this is likely the reason why some articles were too short or biased to convey the full story.

Our advice to readers of NLTimes is therefore that it is a good site to go to if you want to know what topics are currently discussed in the Dutch news media. However, in order to get the full story it is best to engage in conversation with the people around you.

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