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Petaluma startup fights fake news with cash

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Fake news, misinformation, conspiracy theories and distrust in media are global problems, but the solution may be found locally. A Petaluma-based startup is hoping to tackle these challenges through a crowdsourcing platform called Credder.

The site, which launched earlier this year, allows users to review and rate articles on the basis of their perceived credibility, which is then aggregated into an overall credibility score. Users have an option to rate the article as trustworthy, or they can choose from 39 selections explaining why they find it untrustworthy, which include “Sensational,” “Failing Occam’s Razor,” “Financial Bias” and “Science Misinterpreted.”

“We consider ourselves the Rotten Tomatoes for news. It’s our goal and mission to move the news industry from clicks to credibility,” said co-founder and CEO Chase Palmieri. “By that we mean we want to make it financially rewarding for quality journalism, that doesn’t have to compete for clicks.”

The platform contends that the advertising-led revenue model on which many news organizations rely is the reason why clickbait and high levels of distrust in media exists. Credder says it will fix this problem by allowing readers to rate articles, journalists and outlets, with the aim of driving traffic to sources based on credibility rankings.

Readers are also encouraged to patronize journalists and outlets they find credible, via a “tip” button on individual pages. Palmieri, who also runs the downtown Petaluma Italian restaurant Risibisi, said Credder is introducing a holiday bonus program this year which will award $1,000 to the five top-rated authors. Currently, those journalists are Casey Newton with The Verge, Taylor Lorenz and Adam Sewer with The Atlantic, Joseph Cox with Motherboard and Jason Del Rey with Vox.

“We hope to raise up to $100,000 for journalists over the Christmas time and just continue and start to raise, ideally, millions in 2020,” Palmieri said.

The startup began as Tribeworthy in 2017, which Palmieri described as an experiment to discover whether people wanted to review the news and if a crowdsourced outlet was viable. After receiving additional funding, Tribeworthy became Credder in November 2018 and launched a few months later.

The company currently has five full-time staff members spread throughout Northern California, along with a handful of advisors, including founder and former CEO of Rotten Tomatoes Patrick Lee.

Palmieri said Credder’s home base in Petaluma has been helpful, allowing him to make connections in Silicon Valley while keeping costs down.

“There is a startup community brewing up here,” Palmieri said.

Economic Development Manager Ingrid Alverde said Petaluma has been a hub for startups for years, listing examples of Athleta, Lagunitas, Kitsbow, Miyokos, Enhpase and Cowgirl Creamery.

“There’s definitely a life cycle of startups that have grown up here, I think there’s a strong workforce here and a high quality of life that attracts people here,” Alverde said. “It’s also very connected to the Bay Area and all the innovation and investment there.”

The concept of crowd-contested or user-aggregated media is currently also found in sites Our.News and TrustedNews, and was the subject of a Twitter post by Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. However, Credder presents itself as a leader in the field, and according to a May 2019 TechCrunch article, has raised $750,000 from a group of investors that includes Founder Institute CEO Adeo Ressi.

“We see ourselves as the missionary in this space, the ones who are willing to die on our swords for this cause,” Palmieri said. “We’ve been at it the longest, we’ve been under all sorts of lack of funding and the mission here is just to move news from clicks to credibility, we think there needs to become a financially rewarding system for quality in journalism.”

(Contact Kathryn Palmer at kathryn.palmer@arguscourier.com. On Twitter @KathrynPlmr)

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