Iranian journalist and blogger Mohammad Reza Nasab Abdolahi recently launched a website to review and critique news stories and reports produced by a variety of Persian-language news media in Iran and outside the country.
The site, "Newsbaan," which means "News Guard" in Persian, allows registered users to review and critique news media.
Nasab Abdollahi was born in 1977 in Kerman, south of Iran. He received his degree in industrial engineering, but studied journalism through online training courses. For the past decade, he has been a staff writer and editor for several local and national papers. Following last year's presidential election in Iran, he was fired from his editorial job at a local newspaper in the city of Shiraz.
IJNet recently talked with Mohammad Reza Nasab Abdolahi.
When did you launch Newsbaan? What are you trying to achieve through this project?
Newsbaan's beta version was launched about a year ago, and its fully-fledged version just launched in May 2010. This is an independent media-monitoring site and seeks to review and critique the functioning of news media.
When someone wishes to write a review on a news story, he can register on the site, where media content is critiqued [for its adherence to] journalism principles such as accuracy, fairness and the absence of bias.
Members dissect a news story to see whether every element -- from the headline down to the structure and tone -- complies with established journalism rules. Then they grade the story.
Where did you get the idea for this project?
Iranian media have yet to master the skills for writing news stories in the orthodox sense. From the state-run radio and TV stations to public and private papers and news agencies, news stories are strewn with errors.
News is the mother of journalism. However, each day, many stories produced in Iran lack fairness and impartiality and a sound structure. In many instances, we also see journalists themselves becoming part of the story, instead of just reporting it as a witness.
These shortcomings urged me to set up Newsbaan.
How many people are collaborating with your site? Can every news organization and journalist publish their own reviews there?
The team is made up of the site's growing number of members. They are both media professionals and journalism students, a fine mixture of the experienced and newly-trained.
Each reviewer who ranks a story gets a grade himself, partly automatically and partly by the site manager who grades the contribution. Each member who gains at least 150 points gets authorization to choose a news story from media outlets and add it to our site.
On Newsbaan, we welcome and publish comments made by media outlets on our reviews of their content.
Recently we have added “Guest of Newsbaan” in the blog section of our site, in order to have a journalism professor review a news story each week. Then we forward it, along with the comments of our members, to that particular news outlet.
What do you think are the shortcomings of Iranian media in writing news stories?
Media managers tend to instruct journalists to write stories in line with their interests. Most of the time this practice is so blatant that the readers detect the outlet has had a biased judgement on the story.
Besides, Iranian media organizations, which are mostly cash-strapped, undergo self-censorship to keep advertisement revenues flowing and to avoid being banned by the government. So they either refrain from publishing sensitive stories or write and publish them with so much trimming that it is confusing to readers.
Many media organizations in the world have an ombudsman who controls the content quality on the general public's behalf. Is there such a role defined in Iranian media?
In Iran, the editor or editor-in-chief is the person mainly responsible for quality control. He or she cannot be a fair and fine ombudsman for the very reasons that I explained. In many instances, investors or funders would circle the editor and manipulate the content through their influence.
Is Newsbaan a fair monitor? Do you review news stories fairly and without bias on your website, or do you tend to cherry-pick stories from certain media outlets with a particular political affiliation?
We impartially review stories regardless of their political agenda. In Newsbaan, there is a "sources" section where members add stories picked up from those sources. We have done our best to catalogue every Persian-speaking outlet. Still, it lacks many others, which will be added over time. Members can suggest a source; only those media involved in the business of news are added, however.
For more information, please visit the Newsbaan website.