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Why Fact Checking Matters & How to Do It

The Facts about Fact Checking
Why Fact Checking Matters & How to Do It
Screenshot of active fact checking sites around the world via Duke Reporter’s Lab.

The Facts about Fact Checking

The number of fact checking sites online has risen dramatically in the last couple years. It correlates with the lead-up to the US presidential election, but it’s not just in the U.S. According to the annual Duke Reporter’s Lab Census, the number of active fact-checking projects in the world has jumped by over 50% since they took their first census in 2014. Fact checking sites are mostly spurred by politics and political journalism, but the movement could signal a change in journalism as a whole.

For example, since World War I, journalists have generally tried to reject analyzing a politician’s statements or actions in favor of staying objective. Instead, they reported on what the politician said or did, and didn’t necessarily correct it if it was wrong. But the fact checking movement may be changing this norm. Media companies like the New York Times are no longer just reporting on what someone said or did, but also whether what they said or did was correct or truthful.

Instead of being objective, journalists that fact check their work are essentially ‘picking a side’ if they report that what someone says is a lie. Or at least, their audience may see it that way, even if the journalist or news organization is generally bipartisan. And even fact checkers debate each other on whether it’s acceptable to use ratings scales, such as Politifact’s Truth-O-Meter. However, fact checking isn’t always straightforward, and the context surrounding the ‘fact’ can complicate it.

And with the proliferation of fake news sites and articles, fact checkers’ jobs are more important than ever. Facebook clearly thinks so — even if they first resisted the idea that they influenced the U.S. election by allowing fake news to spread. They are now asking media companies and fact checkers to help them determine whether widely-shared articles are fake or not. When it is fake, Facebook will give a warning to users that the piece has been ‘disputed’ before they share it. They’ve already enlisted the Associated Press, ABC News, PolitiFact, FactCheck.org, and Snopes to help.

The ‘disputed’ warning that Facebook displays when an article has been flagged as fake.

But all of this brings us to the question of why fact checking even matters and how do newsrooms fact check their freelance journalists.

Why Fact Checking Matters

Lucas Graves, a professor and former journalist who wrote “Deciding What’s True: The Rise of Political Fact-Checking in American Journalism,” told Poynter in an interview:

“One of the first things that a journalist accepts, especially if covering politics, is that the effort to inform the public is a worthwhile endeavor even if you know that a particular story will only have a limited audience, or might not have any immediate impact on the world.”

Fact checking — and journalism in general — is about informing your audience about the truth of a topic as much as possible. Even if people disagree with the facts or aren’t persuaded by the truth, calling out lies is at least attempting to hold people accountable.

How to Fact Check Your Freelancers

  1. If a freelancer pitched you a story, follow up with their sources and ask for evidence on any claims they make in the article or video. Also, research their claims.
  2. To do this, you might want to hire editors that are unbiased. The Duke Reporters Lab found that over 80% of fact checking projects in the US are tied to newsrooms. Since newsrooms often lean politically left or right, publishers need to make an effort to have these projects be independent and unbiased — and this starts with hiring reporters and fact checkers that are open-minded, unbiased, and can provide an independent judgement even if it goes against the publisher’s political leaning.
  3. Provide analysis or context to ‘he said, she said’ statements in the story when it’s needed to clarify the truth that goes beyond what the freelancer gave you. If it’s a video that needs to be short (such as for social media), then provide written context alongside it.
  4. Show or name your sources and research, which should be also be independent of bias and fact checked.

How else do you fact check video stories before they’re published? Tell us in the comments below!

By D. Simone Kovacs, Writer at Storyhunter