Why Media Transparency Matters with Trust.txt

December 19, 2023



We recently hosted a webinar with JournalList, a non-profit organization that promotes media transparency through Trust.txt – an initiative to help publishers stand out as members of trusted industry associations and organizations.

Here’s an overview of our discussion with Journalist’s Mark Stencel about Trust.txt and its benefits to publishers.


What is Trust.txt?

Trust.txt is a framework that establishes relationships between publishers and the trusted industry organizations and associations they belong to, including AAM. Being a member of an industry organization is one signal of trust that sets quality publishers apart from other websites.

Participants in the program add a Trust.txt file to their website directory, which acts as a machine-readable map to help advertisers, tech platforms and search engines make connections between legitimate publishers and respected industry organizations.


Transparency challenges

Trust.txt is a solution for one of the most talked about challenges in digital media: made-for-advertising (MFA) websites. These sites are created solely for the purpose of selling ads and often resort to plagiarism and AI to generate content. When marketers place ads on MFA websites, their investment is often wasted, yet these sites continue to compete with trusted publishers for ad revenue. AAM’s Kevin Rehberg shared examples of how legitimate these websites can appear.

“One of the biggest problems that quality publishers face today is the proliferation of fake news websites that trade off of the reputation of quality news sources,” said Rehberg. “It’s extremely easy to build a website that looks like it’s local news but is populated with scraped or AI-generated content.”

Stencel also shared an example of Microsoft’s use of AI tools to surface articles to its homepage, MSN.com. The results were false, unverified articles that likely would have been flagged if reviewed by human editors.

These examples build a case for initiatives like Trust.txt that use quality signals to help publishers stand out from sites with fake or lesser quality content.

AAM’s Trust.txt file lists all AAM-audited publishers. Publishers are encouraged to host their own Trust.txt file on their website to list their industry memberships, social media accounts and domains. A publisher’s participation strengthens their connection to others in the Trust.txt ecosystem and further establishes legitimacy as a trusted brand.


Why participate in Trust.txt?

Initiatives like Trust.txt build momentum as participation increases.

“As more news organizations join JournalList, we can use this model to help platforms showcase our work and keep track of who’s a legitimate news organization and who’s not,” Stencel said.

Every AAM-audited publisher is a JournalList member and receives full benefits including a complimentary, custom Trust.txt file and guidance on how to activate.


How to get started

To receive your domain’s custom Trust.txt file or learn more about the program, contact Mark Stencel at mark@journallist.net.



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