Facts in journalism: is it worth checking?

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When it comes to journalism, people might know that one of the main principle of being a journalist, is to deliver the truth. When we ask ourselves “what is truth?”, we usually can come across the answer – FACTS. Most likely, all of us ended up in this kind of situation where our argument (or solution) was “it is this way because it is a fact”. We are keen to stick with facts which can represent not only the argument or make a point, but also represent the TRUTH. Seems reasonable, right? While listening to Monique Hamers presentation, interesting and provoking thoughts came across our minds. What is a fact today – is not a fact tomorrow. Facts are not universal, especially when we take into account different cultures, context or situation. They are open for interpretation, they can be manipulated, changed and put into completely different story. Especially in journalism. Facts usually support the story, making it look more appealing and reliable. Therefore, it is important to keep an eye on them, always challenge the information that is presented in front of us. Journalist often use phrases like “often”, “in popular opinion”, “according to the research”, “increasing/decreasing amount of”, “significant increase in”, “according to research” and etc. Even it seems reliable and trustworthy, we can never be too sure if it is true or not. Especially when it comes to hot news, crisis or any important issues where mistakes in journalism should not occur. Imagine a report regarding war where journalists would provide wrong information, it could be a crucial mistake. That is why, fact-checking should be taken into consideration when shaping our story. If we follow the rule of delivering the truth to our audience, we must cleanse, purify and check the information before publishing it.

Not even mentioning, that journalist should follow journalism ethics and standards, there are different procedures to do fact-checking but here are few tips regarding this matter:

1. Gather all the facts. It might depend whether you are writing the story or reading and fact-checking it. Even so, mark/underline/highlight the facts in the story when you read it. Both facts that seem to good to be true and ones, that seem quite obvious – you can never be too sure. This way we determine what will be checked in the following steps.

2. Find sources. It is said that most media organisations have a rule that all facts should be verified by at least two reliable sources. Following this thought it is better if we find more than one source to confirm the specific fact. Keeping in mind that some researches are being conducted only to promote certain product and service, it is important to check few alternative sources. Some sources are easier to find that others, therefore, considering the journalist who wrote and article as a source is also an option where later on (s)he can be asked where did information come from.

3. Investigate and contact. When we gather our sources, the following step is to investigate it. It can be done either by reading and analysing researches or by contacting journalists, who wrote it, experts who are aware of specific matter, police if we deal with crime, etc. Contacting people, agencies and places that can provide and confirm information. Sometimes, visual material can serve as a source if it captures event or happening.

4.Check the context. When we have our facts straight, it is important to see if it fits the whole story. Sometimes facts are true but when they are put in another context, they can be manipulated in order to deliver a completely different message. Facts and context have to match and it is doable if we verify information in the first place.

5. Look at the whole picture. When we verify the information and analyse the context within we can judge whether the story is reliable or not. Useful and suitable for the audience or made in order to manipulate and mislead. Actions that can be taken here depends on the journalist individually, if they want to help to correct mistakes, inform about misleading information, or even keep silent.

Case: BBC article.

Young men of 25 die every day – in crashed cars, on battlefields, in cancer wards.

At the end of November Tom Fordyce, who is a chief sports writer in BBC Sport, wrote and article “Phillip Hughes: Why does a death in sport hit us so hard?“. The article was based on the death of the cricketer Philip Hughes. The quote above is an opening statement of this article which is not highly important to the rest of the context. After reading this most of us, especially young men, could really take this thought into consideration. At first sign it sound scary – dying at this age. That is a powerful statement here, but is it a fact? Thankfully it is not true. Fullfact.org is a website that runs fact-checking. They proved that this statement is incorrect, dying young is proved to be really rare. This is just an example when some statements can direct us to the wrong way. If we take into account bigger issues (such as war), consequences can be crucial. Therefore, this case only illustrates that information needs to be verified and that articles can contain false statement, like the one in front of you.

In summary, if you wonder what is the answer for the question “when is it worth checking the information?”, the answer is quite simple – always. As mentioned before, we have to challenge everything. In this world, where information is reachable by hand at any time of the day, it is easy to get lost and take wrong information for granted. We have to be aware that so called facts can be manipulated. We can also come across the truth, but when do you know if a fact is real? What is a fact today, might not be a fact tomorrow. Therefore, we, as journalists, have to check it, as we can never be too careful.

Sources:

Why a young sportman’s death is a rare tragedy. Full fact organisation. Retrieved from here.

Journalism – Facts & Directory. Retrieved from here.

Phillip Hughes: Why does a death in sport hit us so hard? Tom Fordyce, 2014. BBC. Retrieved from here.

Principles of Journalism. Pew Research Journalism Project. Retrieved from here.

Reynolds Center for Business Journalism creates accuracy checklist for journalists. Craig Silverman, 2012. Retrieved from here.

The Challenges and Dilemma: Fact Checking in Journalism and Research. Majid Rafizadeh, 2014. Retrieved from here.

The Fact Checker’s Bible. A Guide to Getting It Right. Sarah Harrison Smith, 2004. Retrieved from here.

The Importance of fact-checking for journalists. David Brewer, 2011. Retrieved from here.

Trustworthy journalism in a fact-checking-free world. Craig Newmark, 2013. Retrieved from here.

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3 thoughts on “Facts in journalism: is it worth checking?

  1. Wernard says:

    I really appreciate those types of labels, like the ones on the top of you post. Warning labels like those are what alerts new readers to be critical, which they otherwise might not be. Of course, as we can see from your example of the BBC article, the original publisher is unlikely to label their own articles for us.

    You mention that for journalists it’s always worth checking the information. To what extent does this also apply to the readers? Do you think that readers should be able to consume news without having to check everyting?

    Like

    • AprilLuo says:

      I also like her pictures, and the example from BBC. In general, journalists often misunderstand some professors information, I mean, they usually over-interpret a report or take a particular part to form a story from a weird angle. I think that’s why now the news press prefers to hire a student specialized in economics or sciences to be a new journalist.

      About your question, ” To what extent does this also apply to the readers? ” My opinion is the readers do not need to do fact-checking every time, expect they suspect the news is biased or framed. So, check the part which influences the narrative. I think this is where readers start and to end, for fact-checking.

      Like

      • wysloos says:

        Great article, Gabriele. And those labels are indeed wonderful. It’d be interesting to see what the effect would be if social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook allowed people to choose labels such as these when they link to news articles. Would it become a good example of the wisdom of the crowd? Or would it be prone to abuse? I guess only a carefully orchestrated (and repeated) experiment would tell.

        Wernard asked: ‘Do you think that readers should be able to consume news without having to check everything?’
        My answer: Trust is a journalist’s and news organization’s most valuable commodity. If readers don’t trust them, they’ll loose their audience. But trust is build up over time, so news organizations should allow their readers to verify their work and admit their own mistakes. If there is one thing I’d find very suspicious as a reader, it’s a news organization that never makes mistakes.

        Like

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