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Fact Checking and Tenets of Excellence in Journalism

Although these tools are available on the old ePluribus Media Scoop site, I thought I would recap them here, just for the convenience of the Race and New Media participants.



The Fact Checking Maven's Guidelines


A Reminder of Why Fact-Checking is Important

...check out the DVD Shattered Glass, which as the Amazon review notes: "tells the true story of fraudulent Washington, D.C. journalist Stephen Glass (Christensen), who rose to meteoric heights as a young writer in his 20s, becoming a staff writer at The New Republic for three years (1995-1998), where 27 of his 41 published stories were either partially or completely made up."

Click Read More for the Guidelines and Tenets

Background on our Guidelines

Back in June of 2005, our fact-checking maven put together a checklist for ePluribus Media folk when they are going over articles and pieces intended for the ePluribus Media Journal (this list is distinct, of course, from any editorial or copy-editing that is also done).

Some folks think that "fact checking" is merely a matter of making sure that a hyperlink goes to the right web site, but in fact (ouch, bad pun), it is much more.

Yes, the process involves making sure that facts and details are correct and accurate, but it also ensures that the article is free of speculation presented as fact.

To take a look at the list our maven generated a year and half ago to guide our fact checking process, make the jump below the fold by clicking the Full Story link.

Fact Checking Tips

Documenting your review

  • Read through the document and mark every fact that requires verifying.
  • Use the footnote or endnote function to track all notes and/or confirmations. If you use multiple websites to confirm a fact, include the URLs for the confirming sites.
  • If there is a fact that requires verification, but is beyond your resources, make a note of this as well.
  • Make sure any corrections/recommendations stand out in the text.

During your review

  • Ask questions such as "Says who?" and "How does the writer know this?"
  • Pay attention to descriptives (those pesky adjectives and adverbs) - "most", "all" - verify when possible.
  • If an individual, title, organization or brand is mentioned, check the relevant website to verify spelling.
  • If a number, statistic or figure is mentioned, check the relevant website/primary source to verify. Do the math (e.g. did event X occur 9 days later?).
  • Avoid using secondary sources to verify facts, as you may be perpetuating an error.
    • If you have to use secondary sources, find at least three and make sure they agree.
  • Verify all dates.
  • Verify phone/fax numbers and email addresses.
    • Ring all phone numbers.
  • Verify all web links.
    • Copy the URL from the document and paste it into a browser. Keep track of date/time web link was accessed.
    • If there is a quote associated with the web link, verify that the text of the quote matches.
  • Make sure your "millions" and "billions" don't get mixed up. Don't mix-up dollars, pounds and euros.
  • When possible, verify geographic details.

Addition resources for fact checkers

Web

"44 Tips for Greater Accuracy: How to avoid mechanical/objective errors in your newspaper" (http://www.ibiblio.org/copyediting/tips.html)

Fact Checking by MyResearchNeeds.com (http://www.together.net/~ktob/pages/fact_checking.htm)

Smart, Safe and Efficient Fact Checking by Barbara P. Semonche, Park Library Director, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (http://parklibrary.jomc.unc.edu/factcheckers2004.html)

Book

The Fact Checker's Bible by Sarah Harrison Smith, 2004 Random House.



Project for Excellence in Journalism 9 tenets

  • Journalism's first obligation is to the truth.
  • Its first loyalty is to citizens.
  • Its essence is a discipline of verification.
  • Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
  • It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
  • It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
  • It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.
  • It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
  • Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.