Three years ago, journalists Rosa Laura Junco and Jens Erik Gould were concerned about a growing problem in the media. They saw more and more bias and sensationalism in the news, and it seemed harder for consumers to find hard, unbiased facts. So they formed a company with a solution: The Knife Media.
Fast forward three years, and it’s clear they hit the nail on the head. The Donald Trump era has polarized the U.S., with media bias for and against the president stoking an ideological divide that’s evident in violent episodes like the Charlottesville protests. In the U.K., studies have shown that the Brexit coverage was “highly partisan.” And media and tech companies have yet to solve the problem of fake news.
The Knife Media has an answer: bring rigorous scientific standards to journalism so that the line between fact and fiction isn’t blurred. The company’s ultimate goal is to help people be better informed and develop their critical thinking skills when they read the news.
Junco, Gould and their team of 20 writers and analysts use a proprietary process to strip the news of spin, giving readers the unadulterated facts for any U.S. or world news story. They also rate coverage in traditional news outlets, quantifying the spin, slant, logic and accuracy of the reporting. Then they provide analysis, explaining how the distortions and helping people distinguish fact from opinion.
Junco, The Knife’s CEO, is originally from Mexico and served on the executive board of Grupo Reforma, the largest print media company in the country. A witness to Mexico’s transition to democracy in 2000 and its struggle with drug violence over the past decade, Junco has seen firsthand the power the media has to either promote or hinder good decision-making and progress in a society.
"Just as the lack of freedom of speech hinders the well-being of our communities, so does the abuse of it through sensationalized coverage," said Junco. "Having access to objective, accurate information can catapult society towards progress, and that's what The Knife is about."
Gould, who is editor-in-chief, is a Pulitzer Center grantee and has 10 years of experience covering the U.S. and Latin America for Bloomberg, The New York Times and Time Magazine. He is also producer of the web series Bravery Tapes. He says that for years, he looked for a way to write objective news that wasn’t subject to newsroom pressures to be dramatic or sensational.
“I wasn’t aware of how much we biased our own reporting until I really started to study it,” Gould said. “Reading The Knife is a before-and-after experience. People never look at news the same way again.”
The Knife Media is also different from most news outlets in that it’s subscription-based and doesn’t have advertising on its website, theknifemedia.com. This allows the company to “serve only its mission and the interests of its customers,” according to a July press release.
The depth of news and analysis on The Knife’s website is vast. One recent analysis quantified increased sensationalism when publications report on Donald Trump. It compared The Washington Post’s coverage of North Korea’s missile tests when Trump had made comments about the situation to similar stories when Trump hadn’t been involved. The Knife’s total integrity rating, which measures how objective and balanced a story is, was just 38 percent for The Post’s coverage of the former, compared to 72 percent for its coverage of the latter.
The Knife team has also analyzed Trump’s tweets themselves. Their analysis found that while some of the president’s tweets are factual, many others have spin, misleading information and faulty reasoning. One analysis gave numerical ratings for the spin, slant and logic of all of his tweets over a one week period, and another measured his tweets on the topic of immigration.
Last week, The Knife quantified the bias in the coverage of James Damore’s memo at Google. Their work showed that regardless of which point of view was favored by a given media outlet – Google’s or Damore’s – spin and cherry-picked information promoted faulty conclusions and misrepresented the nuances of each argument.
The company has also analyzed the coverage of recent key events in Latin America, including Venezuela’s election to create a “constituent assembly,” the sentencing of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and the potential renegotiation of NAFTA.
While it’s easy to get caught up in the entertainment of the news, The Knife says that can increase drama, make it harder for leaders to solve the issues, and complicate efforts to solve fake news.
“These are words that are not measurable, they’re not based on data or facts,” Gould said in a recent interview on Fox News. “They’re emotional, and they get us riled up.”
Follow The Knife Media on Twitter at @theknifemedia