A new resource for fact checking

Political fact checking may still be a journalism niche, but it’s growing — as evidenced by the Poynter Institute’s announcement today that it would launch an international fact-checking site.

One of the most exciting parts of the announcement is that the website will contain e-learning packages on fact-checking skills.

Political fact checking and the fact-checking work copy editors do on stories are cousins of each other — both are about verifying statements and data and making sure that readers get the truth. All copy editors are served well by having a cache of fact-checking skills.

Also, beyond political fact checking, there’s a lot of everyday fact-checking work that journalists could be doing. Every time the local city government deals in budget numbers, there’s an opportunity to put fact-checking skills to use.

Poynter’s initiative should be an excellent resource for those who want to broaden their fact-checking base. Here are some other resources:

American Press Institute Fact-Checking Journalism Project (API’s project has done some great research on fact checking.)

The American Copy Editors Society (ACES did a fact-checking training track at its 2015 conference and has the Become a rumor smashing superhero initiative.)

Poynter’s archives (this search will lead you to stories on verification)

How to Fact Check, from Africa Check

The Verification Handbook.

If you’re looking for a primer on fact-checking skills for any reporter or copy editor, read Tips on Verifying Facts and Ensuring Accuracy in Steve Buttry’s blog.

(And look back in this blog. I’ve recently done presentations on both digital verification and critical editing that dip into the waters of fact checking.)

Beware: That may be a fake news site you’re quoting

If you spend much time on the Internet, you know it’s filled with people who think news is funny. Or perhaps I should say that they think things that appear to be news are funny.

The Onion actually knew this before the Internet, and anyone who’s ever read a real headline with the phrase “area man” in it can appreciate the humor of the Onion.

Of course, the problem is there are a lot of fake news sites that don’t seem so much like humor and read more like real news. These sites have fooled some fairly sophisticated news organizations and people — like The New York Times and now CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who didn’t realize that Clickhole is part of the Onion media complex.

Cooper’s follow-up tweet contains good advice, advice I’ve offered in conferences sessions this spring at both the American Copy Editor’s Society conference and the Midwest Journalism Conference: Know the source of your information.

You may ask, if Anderson Cooper can’t keep up with the fake news websites, how can I?

Here are three tips:

1. Make the About page of any website your friend. (Sometimes you have to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page to find it.)

The About Us page for the Daily Currant clearly says “The Daily Currant is an English language online satirical newspaper …” Even the Onion’s About Us page, which doesn’t acknowledge in its opening that the site is satirical, offers clues — (“The Onion supports more than 350,000 full- and part-time journalism jobs in its numerous news bureaus and manual labor camps stationed around the world”) and admits it is satire in its FAQ section.

2. Develop a list of trusted websites, and when you feel like linking to or quoting information from outside that list, make sure you can find the information on multiple sites. Think of it as the equivalent of needing a second source in reporting.

3. Educate yourself. Look for seminars from groups like ACES and state press associations; ask those groups to offer training; read journalism sites like Poynter.org, CJR.org and other trusted media blogs to keep up with the constantly changing media world. Fake news sites are a bit like pop-up restaurants — they appear at a moment’s notice.

And finally, don’t believe everything you see on Facebook (or any social media). Be a skeptical editor. Verify, verify, verify.


Talking about digital verification

On April 10, I presented a session on digital verification at the Midwest Journalism Conference in Minneapolis.

My Digital Verification slideshow from the Midwest Journalism Conference, with some extra notes on some slides. Feel free to download and share the training with your colleagues or students.

I promised to post the slides from my session. Always live up to your promises.

Social media isn’t in its infancy anymore, but often journalists don’t think the same way about it as they would about what they hear in an interview or at an event. There’s a lot of information floating around out there on social media, and — horrors! — a lot of it just isn’t true.

When you use information from social media in a story, you need to treat that information like you would any news tip that comes to your newsroom. Would you automatically publish something that was called in to the newsroom? The answer probably is “it depends on what the tip is and who called it in (and if you’re sure that the person on the phone is who they say they are).”

Treat information from social media the same way. If you are aggregating tweets about a snow storm in your city while the storm is happening, and the tweets are coming from your city, you probably don’t need to do a lot of verification. Make sure the photos are original and not from the blizzard ins 2011.

But, again, it depends on the content of the tweet. A tweet that says cars are sliding on Main Street is a lot different from one that says a house collapsed under the weight of snow and two people are trapped inside.

If the topic is something that needs reporting, the fact that someone tweeted about it doesn’t mean you can skip the reporting.