Strategy and trends

4 fact-checking tips that go beyond the elections

Great ideas live forever! We found this post from the GateHouse Newsroom vaults that still rings true today for newsrooms looking to brush up on fact checking in time for Election Day.

As I left my polling station Tuesday, I felt pretty good about my ability to vote. I had read up on the candidates in my area, and I appreciated that journalists offered me useful information to help me make an informed decision. During election season, we are all over candidates, ensuring that their claims and barbs are on the up-and-up.

Then I reflected on how important that fact-checking function is year-round. The easy way to report is to rely on quotes from your sources to tell a story. In fact, Craig Silverman — who is dedicated to ensuring journalists get it right — wrote a piece on Poynter over the summer about a study that showed journalists relied more heavily on stenography than on fact checking while covering presidential debates in 2012. Too often, election season or not, reporters simply report what is said. The greater value to readers is to find out if it’s true.

Here are some ideas and tips to crank up your fact-checking operation:

1. Have a fact-checking policy: The American Press Institute offers a sample policy that provides a great starting point for newsrooms. If you don’t have a policy, check it out for ideas on how to ensure you are fair and transparent. The focus is on elections, but it’s never too early to start thinking about your approach.

2. Your question answered: If you’ve been a GateHouse Media paper for more than a few years, you might remember our alternative story format that offered to answer reader questions. If you aren’t familiar with this feature, it allows readers to submit questions, and then reporters find the answers. You present the little story in a Q&A format and urge readers to keep submitting questions. Check out this fun version from the Answer Team at the Citizen-Times in Asheville, North Carolina. They present a question, a funny, snarky answer and then the real answer. Readers deserve a little levity, and I love this dispelling of myths.

3. Check out the pros: The best way to learn to do something is to study how others do it. Here are some examples: PolitiFact; Washington Post’s Fact Checker; follow Storyful, which verifies UGC content and offers a #DailyDebunk; and Emergent, Craig Silverman’s data-driven project to expose online hoaxes. Also, from PolitiFact, check out this explanation of its principles.

4. Sources for fact checking: Check out the Journalist’s Toolbox for links to helpful fact-checking resources, such as the “who, what, when” database for “key people and events from 1000 A.D. to the present” and Poligraft, which looks for political connections.

Remember, one of the qualities that sets journalism apart from all of the other stuff out there is our desire and ability to find out what is true and keep our readers informed.

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