Faster Fact Checking, Part 4: Best Practices
In part 1 of Beyond Bylines’ Faster Fact Checking series, we discussed online tools that help verify data; part 2 focused on social media fact checking; and part 3, crisis and public safety reporting. For our final installment, we’re moving away from tools and reviewing where you can learn more about verification best practices.
Poynter’s Regret the Error Blog
The Poynter Institute provides an excellent collection of trends and tips for journalists. For example, Craig Silverman’s Regret the Error blog tracks errors that occur in the media and also digs deep into how journalists can better verify a story’s accuracy, prevent mistakes, and issue corrections when they happen.
Silverman has written for the Toronto Star, Columbia Journalism Review, The Globe And Mail, and BusinessJournalism.org. He moved his blog to Poynter in 2011, when he joined the institute as an adjunct faculty member.
His post, This is My Story About The Breaking News Errors That Just Happened, is a good jumping-on point for those new to his blog. Slightly tongue-in-cheek but completely spot-on, it was inspired by a conversation Silverman had about the difficulties of writing the same blog post every time a major media outlet got breaking news wrong.
It’s comprehensive – linking to various examples of mistakes that can happen (and why), how they are often not properly corrected, and the ability for misinformation to uncontrollably spread from one newsroom to others. Conversely, it also includes examples of newsrooms that did a good job of showing restraint and how to incorporate those best practices into your own reporting.
A few of my other favorite posts by Silverman:
- 8 Verification Must-Reads
- How Journalists Can Do A Better Job of Correcting Errors on Social Media
- Researchers’ 3 Tips to Help Journalists Debunk Misinformation
The Buttry Diary
Another go-to blog for me is Steve Buttry’s The Buttry Diary. After spending 40 years in the news business, Buttry was the Lamar Visiting Scholar at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication.
Buttry gave advice on writing, interviewing, and how to be a good editor. However, it’s his posts on accuracy that I find most helpful. He was opinionated and often found how even the best journalism resources can be taken one step further. Case in point, his post Journalism Ethics Conversation Needs One More Thing: Detailed Situational Advice.
But it was Buttry’s version of Craig Silverman’s accuracy checklist that put his blog on this list.
Buttry began by confessing he’s not much for checklists. After attending one of Silverman’s workshops, he was convinced that they are useful even for veteran journalists.
So why would Buttry reinvent the wheel if Silverman already has provided the accuracy checklist he uses? Buttry wrote: “About the time Craig had me won over to his checklist point of view, he said something surprising: He has frequently encouraged journalists in workshops and in his blogs to develop their own checklists, but no one has ever told him that they’ve done it. Well, now they have.”
I prefer Buttry’s list not only because it contains a few additions and more elaboration on why you need to do certain items, but also because it perfectly proves Silverman’s point. Checklist templates are very helpful; you just need to make your own so you can figure out what process works most effectively for you.
Not surprisingly, Silverman is the editor and Buttry was one of the contributors to the industry essential the Verification Handbook.
Produced by the European Journalism Centre and released at the beginning of 2014, its purpose is to provide “actionable advice to facilitate disaster preparedness in newsrooms, and best practices for how to verify and use information, photos and videos provided by the crowd.”
In addition to Buttry and Silverman, other contributors include Storyful’s Malachy Browne, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, European Journalism Centre’s Rina Tsubaki, and experts on user-generated content, social technology, and emergency response.
Each chapter includes an essay and at least one case study demonstrating the essay’s principles in action.
For instance, Ingram’s Putting the Human Crowd to Work examines the best practices that Andy Carvin and others developed for crowdsourced verification:
“It’s important to remember that one thing that helped Andy Carvin do what he did was his reaching out to others for help in a very human and approachable way. He also treated those he came into contact with as colleagues, rather than as just sources he could command to do his bidding. Journalists and others who simply hand out orders get very little in response, but treating people like human beings makes all the difference.”
Insight and examples of how to approach verification — not just directives on what to do — set the Verification Handbook apart from other journalism guides.
Most notably, anyone can download a PDF version of the Verification Handbook for free – demonstrating the contributors’ focus on responsible journalism over profit.
Over the past month, we’ve highlighted 12 tools that are helping journalists report on breaking news quickly and — more importantly — accurately. However, this is an area that many in the journalism and tech industries continue to innovate.
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Amanda Hicken is a former media relations manager at PR Newswire. Follow her @ADHicken.