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SpinSpotter lets readers edit out bias in online news

New software presented at Demo lets people point out perceived bias and inaccuracies in online news and suggest rewrites.

SpinSpotter has developed a service that lets readers of news sites like weigh in on whether the news presented is balanced or heavy with spin. Here, the words highlighted in red have been tagged by SpinSpotter users as being less than objective. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

SAN DIEGO--Think the media is biased? Well, now you can do something about it.

Seattle-based SpinSpotter launched an online service at DemoFall on Tuesday that lets readers judge whether articles on the Internet are objective and accurate or not.

"People no longer trust the media," Todd Herman, founder and chief product officer of SpinSpotter, said during a presentation. About 66 percent of people consider the press "one-sided" while only 9 percent of journalists are concerned with the media's credibility, according to a Pew Research Center study.

A SpinSpotter toolbar, called Spinoculars, displays any edits that have been suggested on a news article or blog item on the Web. Readers can annotate headlines and text, comment on and rate other reader's spin ratings of the item and e-mail their work to others.

SpinSpotter also allows users to weigh in on the objectivity of other users. Here, you can see that the crossed-out words have been identified as unbalanced. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

In deciding its policies, the company created rules based on the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics, discussions with journalism professors and others. Journalism experts also serve as referees, Herman said in an interview.

An algorithm is also used to identify instances of bias and inaccuracy and incorporates feedback from readers. Readers are directed to look for things like writers stating opinion as fact, lack of balance, unattributed adjectives, expert sources with a conflict of interest, and paragraphs lifted from press releases, which makes it "not quite news," according to Herman.

Just like on Wikipedia, there will no doubt be debate among readers who have divergent political and philosophical leanings. But readers who abuse the system or demonstrate extreme personal bias will see their activities have less impact than others who play by the rules as their trust rating gets lowered, said Herman, who used to be a radio talk show host.

But in a world where blogging has blurred the line between traditional journalism, opinion and gossip, won't most text on the Web be subject to scrutiny? Items that set themselves apart as news, which is understood to be objective and accurate, is fair game, but blogs that are disclosed as opinion aren't, he said.

What about news that is biased because it omits information or context? The system has a way for readers to provide additional information that can help them assert their case.

The service works only with text online, so broadcast news isn't covered, which is a shame. People would truly have a hay day with Fox News. But maybe that comment is too biased...