New Rules for Fact Checking: Building Trust and Credibility with Your Audience

ICYMI. In 2014, we ran an entire series on faster fact-checking, from tools for reporting breaking news to best practices and making sense of social media. Read up on Parts one, two, three, and four.

fact checking redo

It used to be that news was just that – news.

Now, news organizations are competing with fake news – a term that didn’t exist until just a couple of years ago.

This has been devastating to the media industry, which stands by every hard-earned story produced and now must fact-check everything before publishing.

Four years ago, Beyond Bylines published a four-part series on faster fact-checking.

We discussed sorting through statistics and other data, making sense of social media, crises and public safety reporting tools, and verification best practices.

We’re adding to that series and have put together some new tools for journalists and content creators to utilize. Here’s where we’re at.

Political fact-checking. Check.

The American Press Institute is leading a project to increase and improve fact-checking and accountability journalism.

You can follow the project at any time, as well as get advice from experts on its Better News fact-checking resource page.

Better News comes with a whole host of helpful resources, starting with a fact-checking primer and more information on planning. A guide to verification and debunking words and images? No problem. Once you’re ready to report, the site offers guidelines for newsrooms that are new to fact-checking, how to identify misleading talking points, and tips to break the grip of misinformation.

“The grant-funded project supports research to improve political fact-checking, and works with news organizations to significantly increase and improve accountability journalism practices as well as contribute to public debates on the topic,” says API.

In 2014, API announced a major project to improve fact-checking in journalism with a $400,000 grant from the Democracy Fund to support research to improve political fact checking.

“Helping citizens know what is true and what is not is at the core of journalism’s purpose,” said API Executive Director Tom Rosenstiel, at the time. “Almost everything in public life flows from this foundation—understanding, common ground and a working political system.”

Another good place to go to verify political information: PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter.

Adding Google to the mix

Early- to mid-2017, Fact Check was made available in Google search and news around the world.

This stemmed from labeling fact-check articles in Google News, as discussed by Google Head of News Richard Gingras in Oct. 2016.

“Today, we’re adding another new tag, ‘Fact check,’ to help readers find fact checking in large news stories,” he said, in the Google News Initiative.

Google doubled down in 2018 on journalism – specifically targeting fake news – and announced last spring its plans to invest in a multi-pronged news initiative program. (For more information, you can read about Google’s effort to help news organizations and journalists thrive in the digital age.)

Google Chief Business Officer Phillipp Schindler described the initiative as “a way to tie together all the company’s efforts to work with the journalism industry,” reported TechCrunch senior writer Anthony Ha.

“Google says the News Initiative is focused on three broad goals — strengthening quality journalism, supporting sustainable business models and empowering newsrooms through technological innovation,” Ha wrote, mentioning the total commitment from Google is $300 million over the next three years on various journalism-related projects.

Separately, Google’s nonprofit organization announced a $10 million media literacy project to help US teens learn how to identify false news, reports The New York Times.

According to The Times’s Kevin Roose, the program will use GIFs, memes, videos, and YouTube celebrities “to respond to the spread of misinformation.”

We’re talking about trust and credibility

According to the 2018 Cision State of the Media Report, 18 percent of journalists maintained the ongoing conversation of fake news is among the biggest challenges to face journalism in the last 12 months.

How do news consumers really decipher fact from fake?

Nieman Lab’s Nancy Watzman discussed nine takeaways from Knight Foundation-supported research on how to restore trust in the news.

Among the takeaways: It’s not your (the journalist’s) fault that “junk news” spreads.

Writes Watzman: “As people increasingly rely on social media platforms to get information, they are at the mercy of opaque algorithms they don’t control, write Samantha Bradshaw and Philip Howard. These algorithms are optimized to maximize advertising dollars for social media platforms. Since people tend to share information that provokes strong emotions and confirm what they already believe, “The speed and scale at which content “goes viral” grows exponentially, regardless of whether or not the information it contains is true.”

In July, Poynter reported that four major tech companies are taking new steps to combat fake news.

“YouTube will be surfacing authoritative sources in search results during breaking news in order to push out the regular dribble of conspiracy theories, but defining “authoritative” might be tricky,” writes Poynter’s Daniel Funke and Alexios Mantzarlis. “WhatsApp is now labeling forwarded messages and working with fact-checkers and researchers, but will it be enough to limit the spread of viral rumors? Facebook launched its data-sharing partnership with academics, but will it result in meaningful methods to counter fake news? Twitter suspended more than 70 million fake accounts in May and June — with more on the way — but will it cut down on breaking news hoaxes?

OK, let’s talk tools.

There’s so much out there. And it frankly can be difficult to wade through all the resources available to make your job easier.

Here’s our best crack at a shortlist of fact-checking resources that can help you put together nearly any story.

  • Because every journalist needs a box of tools. Society of Professional Journalists offers the Journalist’s Toolbox. What you can find there: History/fact-checking, copy editing resources, and fact-checking resources.
  • Sometimes you need data from YouTube. This YouTube Dataviewer tool is provided by Amnesty International. Drop in a URL from YouTube and this tool pulls a variety of information. Get upload time and date, social handles (think Instagram and Twitter), websites, and names of folks involved in the production of videos.
  • Everyone loves a good survey. Veracio is a user-friendly survey tool that “automatically weights your survey responses using local census data to ensure they are representative of the population you are surveying, meaning inaccuracies are minimized.” According to the site, with weighting, you can collect more accurate data to support news stories, measure the impact of social projects, or make evidence-based policy decisions.
  • Because you’ll want to monitor website change and track side-by-side text edits. Versionista crawls the sites you choose and allows you to monitor five URLs every day for free. This translates into roughly 150 “checks” a month.
  • Dig into SEC filings, federal agencies, patents, court cases, and more. Sqoop continuously collects and indexes documents and allows journalists to search and receive email alerts.
  • You need an open source data mining tool. Overview is here to help. Originally built for investigative journalists, Overview reads and analyzes “thousands of documents super quickly. It includes full text search, visualizations, entity detection, topic clustering, and more. All in an easy-to use, visual workflow.”
  • Visualize and analyze fiscal data in the public sphere. OpenSpending allows users to search more than 3,108 data packages from 80 countries with more than 115,913,261 fiscal records. What kind of data can you look up? Balance sheets and budgets, to name a couple. And, this open community format allows you to contribute data.
  • Assess and compare the performance of the entire US criminal justice system. Measures for Justice aims to bring transparency to the criminal justice system at the county level. The goal is to measure every stage of the criminal justice process across the 3,000+ counties in the country. A data portal shows how counties are faring in three areas: fair process, public safety, and fiscal responsibility. Data is recollected every two years to show trends and establish baselines.
  • Because you’d like to automatically generate a public records request. FOIA Machine allows anyone to generate a public records request – with all the necessary legal boilerplate – for free. It’s meant to empower “citizens and journalists to write, file and track public records requests to various governmental and public agencies in the United States. This site helps users access government documents and data that are covered by Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws allowing citizens to obtain information vital to the workings of their government.”

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Christine Cube is a senior audience relations manager with PR Newswire and freelance writer. Follow her at @cpcube.

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