Rating Process and Criteria: TV Programs and Networks

NewsGuard employs a team of trained journalists and experienced editors to review and rate televised news programs and networks by watching a representative sample of individual programs and reading a representative sample of program transcripts.

The ratings are based on the programs’ adherence to four journalistic criteria. The criteria assess the journalistic standards of each show or network — as well as the overall journalistic standards of the organization associated with it. Based on a site’s performance on the four criteria, it is assigned a Red, Yellow, or Green rating — a risk level; and a safety score from 0-10, indicating its credibility. These scores can used by advertisers and ad agencies as a factor as they make decisions about where they will purchase ads as they plan advertising campaigns for brands and products.

Rating Categories

Our TV program and network ratings serve as a guide to gauge the general brand-safety and brand-suitability risk for an advertiser of advertising on a particular TV program or network.

Based on NewsGuard’s judgment with regard to whether the show generally adheres to each of the criteria, a program or network receives a score from 0-10. That score determines in which risk category the program or network falls. Here are NewsGuard’s four score bands:

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Lowest risk (10 pts) / Low risk (8-9 pts) advertising environment

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Some risk (5-7 pts) advertising environment

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High risk (0-4 pts) advertising environment

NewsGuard’s ratings aim to help advertisers make judgments about placing ads on TV programs or networks. Advertisers can use our score bands in conjunction with their own threshold of risk and create inclusion and exclusion lists accordingly.

Note: NewsGuard reviews each program and its rating at least quarterly by reviewing a broad, representative sample of program segments and transcripts. However, the resulting scores are based on what NewsGuard judges to be the program’s general standards. Although the scores reflect the management of each show’s commitment to those standards, or lack thereof, they cannot predict deviations from those standards that might occur during a given telecast.

Rating Criteria

The journalists at NewsGuard assess television news programs and networks based on four criteria. Each is worth a certain number of points, as indicated below, based on its importance. Criteria are evaluated on a pass/fail basis, meaning that a program or network either receives all of the points associated with a criterion or none of them.

The criteria and their definitions are listed below:

  • Does not repeatedly convey false information: This network or program does not regularly allow clearly false facts of significant importance to be conveyed by the on-air talent or an interviewee in a way that is unchallenged by other on-air talent or another interviewee. (4 Points)
  • Conveys news on important topics responsibly: This network or program rarely if ever conveys unchallenged false facts, presents unsubstantiated claims as fact, or distorts or misrepresents information regarding important issues. (3 Points)
  • Presents multiple viewpoints: When the on-air talent or guests offer opinions on significant issues, care is generally taken by this network or program to present alternative viewpoints. (2 Points)
  • News organization associated with this program adheres strongly to journalistic standards:  The website of the network that airs this program passes all NewsGuard’s credibility criteria. (1 Point)

Rating Process

The rating process is designed to ensure that NewsGuard’s four basic, apolitical journalistic criteria are applied equally and accurately to all TV programs and networks, regardless of the TV program or network’s topic, tone, or political leaning, if any. Steps include:

  1. An analyst assesses the contents of the TV program against four journalistic criteria. Our analysts are trained journalists who conduct reporting to determine relevant details of the program’s credibility practices.
  2. The analyst drafts a “TV Label” for the program or network based on this reporting. TV Labels consist of a grid showing the site’s performance on each of the four criteria and a written explanation of the content on the site and why it received its rating.
  3. If an analyst believes a program or network may fail one of the first three criteria, the analyst contacts the program or network to attempt to seek comment before publishing the rating. If a representative for the program or network provides a comment, that comment is included in the written assessment of the program or network to provide users with the program or network’s perspective.
  4. The rating is reviewed and fact-checked by experienced editors. Multiple senior editors review every TV Label prior to publication.
  5. The program or network receives a red, yellow, or green rating based on the four journalistic criteria. The site’s red, yellow, or green rating is determined solely based on the four criteria.
  6. In addition, if the show being rated is highly opinionated, that designation is included as a meta-data tag to be used by advertisers that seek to avoid highly opinionated programs.
  7. Our team periodically at least quarterly updates its rating of each site. If a site changes its practices, its score on one or more of the four criteria may change.
  8. We practice accountability and show our work. Each TV Label contains the names of the writer and editors who worked on the rating. The backgrounds of the analysts and editors named, as well as those of the supervising editors, can be found by clicking on their names or going to the Our Team page of this website. If a program or network disagrees with our rating for its site, it can write a response or complaint using our contact page. Any such complaints will be published on our website here and linked from the program or network’s TV Label.

NewsGuard TV Ratings FAQs

How does NewsGuard choose which TV programs and networks to rate?

NewsGuard works with advertising agencies to determine the TV programs and networks that receive the most engagement and ad spend. These programs are given priority as programs and networks to rate. Beyond that, NewsGuard’s team uses editorial judgement to determine which additional TV programs and networks to rate.

How does NewsGuard evaluate TV programs versus TV networks?

NewsGuard’s TV Labels for programs and networks are based on the same set of criteria but differ in scope. For program labels, NewsGuard’s analysts limit their assessment to a specific show’s content and practices. For network labels, NewsGuard’s analysts review a cross section of content from multiple shows within a network to gauge the network’s overall editorial standards. For both TV program and network labels, analysts review a recent sampling of broadcasted content and read a sampling of transcripts, then call for comment if a program or network fails one of the criteria, and update labels roughly every three months.

How did NewsGuard develop its criteria to rate TV programs and networks?

NewsGuard’s criteria were developed by NewsGuard’s team of journalists and editors. They are based on longstanding, widely accepted journalistic standards of accuracy.

The criteria were adapted from NewsGuard’s rating criteria for news websites, drawing on many of the same principles and applying them to a television format. The criteria focus on whether a program or network conveys egregiously false information on important topics; whether it does so repeatedly or only occasionally; whether it challenges guests or interviewees who make false claims; and whether it presents multiple perspectives on key issues.

What and how much content does NewsGuard review before rating a TV program or network?

NewsGuard’s analysts review a sampling of video content of the broadcast over a three-month period from the time of review. This ensures the rating is based on a review of the program or network’s recent practices.

Additionally, our analysts browse and search a repository of episodes and episode transcripts from the past 90 days. If necessary, they conduct searches on noteworthy topics such as COVID-19 and elections to understand how each program covered top news topics, especially topics about which key facts are disputed or which are the subject of significant debate. Our analysts also look for important moments in a TV program or network’s recent history, such as recent controversies, retractions, awards and accolades, and examine corresponding video clips. Before quoting, transcripts are always confirmed against original video clips to ensure accuracy.

How often does NewsGuard update its ratings and Labels?

As a matter of practice, NewsGuard aims to review and refresh its ratings for all programs and networks every three months. However, more frequent updates will occur if circumstances warrant — such as a change in ownership, a change in practices, or if the program or network wins an award or becomes embroiled in a controversy.

How does NewsGuard avoid bias, such as favoring one political ideology or party?

NewsGuard operates with full transparency and disclosure, with an identical approach to all TV programs and networks. We use the same four criteria for rating all TV programs and networks. These basic, apolitical criteria reflect basic principles of reliable journalism, whether for news-based programs or for opinion-based programs.

Our criteria are applied equally to all publishers regardless of political orientation, if any, and in the same way for an established broadcaster as for new digital-only programming. In addition, if our reporting indicates that a program or network may fail any one of the criteria, our analysts contact the program or network for comment. If a representative for a program or network provides a comment about NewsGuard’s rating, that comment is included in the TV Label, giving the publisher an opportunity to explain the show or network’s practices and make their point of view known.

NewsGuard has been credited as apolitical and fair in news reports by a variety of news organizations – liberal, middle of the road, and conservative. For that reason, NewsGuard is used by a wide range of governmental and nonprofit organizations as a source of credible, nonpartisan data about media trust, including the World Health Organization, the U.S. State Department and Department of Defense, the U.K. Department of Media, Culture and Sport, the French Digital Minister’s office, and others. More than 800 public libraries provide their patrons with the internet browser extension version of our ratings and labels for websites.

Why should anyone trust NewsGuard? 

  • Because the leadership and staff of NewsGuard use basic, apolitical, criteria of journalistic practice for the ratings and because they are a group of trained journalists who have spent their careers dedicated to the profession. Steven Brill is one of America’s most respected magazine writers and non-fiction book authors. Gordon Crovitz was a highly regarded columnist for the Wall Street Journal editorial page—and The Wall Street Journal’s publisher. Our senior advisors in each country have similar backgrounds, such as our UK senior advisor who was a journalist at the BBC for 30 years, including as global news editor, and our Italian senior advisor who spent 30 years at ANSA (the Italian version of the AP), including as editor in chief. They and the journalists they have recruited care deeply about reliable journalism’s pivotal role in democracy.
  • These experienced journalists come from diverse backgrounds and have no political axes to grind. In fact, you can see the credentials and backgrounds of everyone responsible for every NewsGuard reliability rating, Nutrition Label, and TV Label that you read.
  • NewsGuard has an ethics and conflicts of interest policy that every analyst and editor has to agree to. Click to see the policy.
  • NewsGuard is totally transparent about how all decisions are made. It discloses and explains in detail the nine criteria NewsGuard examines in order to rate each news site on its journalistic practices. The Nutrition Label and TV Label write-ups explain what’s behind each decision. NewsGuard is not a black box algorithm.
  • NewsGuard makes concerted attempts to get comment from every website’s editor or manager before NewsGuard writes anything negative about the site, and always include the comments in the Nutrition and TV Labels (or make changes after weighing the comment and realizing NewsGuard’s initial conclusion was wrong). Algorithms don’t call for comment.
  • NewsGuard posts any complaints from website and TV proprietors about anything that is written about them. And NewsGuard’s leaders answer them publicly – and when warranted will make corrections, publicly, after they consider the complaint.
  • NewsGuard accepts no fees from the news websites or TV programs for its ratings. NewsGuard’s revenue comes from the fees that technology companies such as access providers, platforms and search engines pay for licensing ratings; that advertisers, ad agencies and ad tech companies pay for brand-safety tools; and that cyber security entities pay for data to protect democracies from hostile information operations. Many websites cite their green rating in their About sections and run advertising explaining their NewsGuard ratings.
  • Bringing more information to people about the news sources they encounter online is NewsGuard’s only business. The success of this venture depends entirely on being trustworthy and reliable.

Who is behind NewsGuard?

NewsGuard was launched by a team of experienced journalists, including the former publisher of The Wall Street Journal, the founder of The American Lawyer and Court TV, and former top editors at Reuters, the Associated Press, and the Chicago Tribune.

NewsGuard’s team includes a wide range of journalists and editors from diverse journalistic backgrounds in the countries in which we operate—currently, the U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany, France, and Italy. (NewsGuard has rated all the news and information websites that account for 95% of online engagement in each country.) Learn more about NewsGuard’s team.

NewsGuard’s team believes in transparency and accountability, so in addition to our team, all of our investors and advisors are disclosed prominently on our website.

How does NewsGuard make money?

NewsGuard makes money by licensing access to its database of independent ratings to technology companies, advertising agencies, educational organizations, cyber security entities and others that want to provide their customers, clients, teachers and students with a trusted source of information to distinguish credible news sources from untrustworthy sources.

Who owns and funds NewsGuard?

NewsGuard Technologies, Inc. is a privately owned corporation based in New York. A full list of our investors is available here.